Democratic Party lawmaker calls for impeachment of 2 judges implicated in judicial impropriety

한겨레 입력 2021. 1. 28. 19:26
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"Impeaching those judges is what should be done to repair judicial independence [and] restore trust in it."

Lee also energetically rebutted the argument that an attempt to impeach the judges — which is unprecedented in South Korea — would undermine the independence of the judiciary. "There's a tendency in South Korea to regard judges as being godlike. It's actually toxic to trust the judiciary to that level."

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Lee Tah-ney cites dismissal of dirty judges in other advanced countries
Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Tah-ney calls for the impeachment of judges implicated in a political scandal at the National Assembly on Jan. 22. (Yonhap News)

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Tah-ney, who is pushing to impeach two judges implicated in a scandal under the previous administration, rebutted the argument that impeaching judges damages the independence of the judiciary.

“Not punishing those judges is what would actually damage the independence of the courts,” Lee said.

“The two judges [that I think should be impeached] are people who have themselves undermined the independence of the courts,” Lee said during an interview on the TBS radio program “Kim Ou-joon’s News Factory” on Jan. 26.

“Impeaching those judges is what should be done to repair judicial independence [and] restore trust in it.”

“Think how absurd it must have felt for the person on trial. You’re sitting there in the dock, looking at and speaking to the person you assume is the judge. But then you come to find out that the judge has leaked and even changed their verdict behind your back.”

“If people like that aren’t punished, trust [in the judiciary] won’t be restored,” Lee said, repeating his argument for the legitimacy of impeaching the two judges.

On Jan. 22, Lee was one of 107 lawmakers — from the Democratic Party, the Justice Party, the Open Democratic Party and the Basic Income Party, as well as independent lawmakers — who sponsored a bill of impeachment in the National Assembly against Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge at the Busan High Court whose term will end in late February, and against Lee Dong-geun, a senior judge at the Seoul High Court who is expected to resign on Jan. 28.

The two judges are accused of leaking or changing their rulings in the trial of a reporter from Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper. The reporter had been indicted for defamation after writing a column about former President Park Geun-hye’s failure to account for her whereabouts for seven hours after the Sewol ferry sank in 2014.

“[The two judges] have been officially recognized in their initial trial as figures who acted contrary to the constitution, and the National Council of Judges has said that they should be impeached, basically asking the National Assembly to impeach them,” Lee Tah-ney said during his interview on TBS.

“The two judges have submitted resignations in what amounts to an attempt to dodge [their impeachment]. If we let them have their way, they’ll be able to honorably end their terms and work as attorneys with all the privileges given to former judges.”

Lee also energetically rebutted the argument that an attempt to impeach the judges — which is unprecedented in South Korea — would undermine the independence of the judiciary. “There’s a tendency in South Korea to regard judges as being godlike. It’s actually toxic to trust the judiciary to that level.”

“In the US, articles of impeachment have been passed against 15 federal judges. Even in a country as conservative as Japan, nine judges have been impeached. And in the UK, 20 or 30 judges are removed from office each year,” Lee said.

“Some of the judges in the UK held unfair trials, while others engaged in behavior unfitting for their office. But when South Korean judges drive while intoxicated or take unwanted photos of women with hidden cameras, we let them off with a slap on the wrist.”

The number of lawmakers sponsoring the bill of impeachment exceeds the one-third quorum required to submit it. Since an impeachment bill only requires the approval of a majority of lawmakers to pass, the 174 lawmakers in the Democratic Party could pass it on their own.

But the Democratic Party leaders seem concerned that trying to impeach the two judges at a time when the party needs to focus on “main street” issues like helping people who are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic could become a political liability.

Some Democratic Party members think that the opportunity to impeach the judges has already passed. Party lawmakers will convene on Jan. 27 to decide whether or not to move ahead with impeachment. If the bill of impeachment passes the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court has the final say about whether to confirm the bill.

By Song Ho-jin, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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