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United we stand, divided we fall

June 13,2018
For the last 10 days, judges across the country have been divided on the question of pressing criminal charges against former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae for allegedly influencing the very court that deliberated on charges of power abuse against former President Park Geun-hye.

Judges debated on the issue by court and rank. Younger judges argued for criminal actions against Yang and other officials involved in the allegations, while more senior-level members disagreed. Senior benches issued a statement opposing criminal action against those officials. An advisory committee to the Supreme Court — comprised of experts from various fields — also showed mixed responses to the idea of filing criminal charges against Yang and others.

An internal investigation team last month said it found suspicious documents in computers of the National Court Administration that is used to conduct administrative work for the Supreme Court. Those documents raised questions on Yang’s judicial neutrality. Yet the team said the evidence was not enough to file charges against Yang or the others involved.

Current Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su, however, said he would decide on whether to take actions against his predecessor or not after hearing opinions from the bench, even though an internal investigation team had already recommended against taking action against Yang. Kim ended up stoking and exposing division in the court by ignoring a recommendation from the investigation team that he himself had appointed.

Last Friday, Chief Justice Kim said the matter should be dealt among the judges, indicating a retreat from his earlier position of pressing charges against Yang and others. Given the division within the judiciary, a consensus will not likely be achieved easily. When opinions are polarized, it is best to stick to the basics. Kim must respect the judgment made by the investigation team. If the prosecution or the legislature launch separate probes, the court could comply within the context of upholding the integrity of the judiciary. Prosecutors inevitably may have to launch an investigation due to the number of charges on the affair. We hope Chief Justice Kim will try to restore the integrity and unity of the court.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 12, Page 30