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Closing arguments in Park’s trial are delayed

Feb 23,2017
이미지뷰
Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi of the Constitutional Court, center, speaks during the 16th hearing of the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye on Wednesday. The court delayed closing arguments from Friday to Monday. [YONHAP]
The Constitutional Court delayed Wednesday closing arguments in the impeachment trial of President Park Geun-hye from Friday to Monday, as her lawyers continued stalling tactics and challenged the integrity of the judges.

Last week, acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi declared that the court would hear closing arguments on Friday, but Park’s lawyers demanded a delay to March 2 or 3.

“We will hear the closing arguments at 2 p.m. on Monday,” Lee said. She also asked Park’s lawyers to inform the court by Sunday if the president will attend the final hearing.

The court previously asked the lawyers to say by Wednesday if the president would make an appearance. They, however, said the decision was yet to be made, and Lee gave them until Sunday.

It remains to be seen if the court will be able to rule on the case before Lee’s retirement on March 13, 2017. The judges will have 14 days after closing arguments to confer, hold a vote and write a verdict.

In the 2004 impeachment trial of President Roh Moo-hyun, the court deliberated 14 days after closing arguments. They restored him to office.

The delay was announced after the judges faced a series of stalling tactics by Park’s lawyers during the hearing on Wednesday. The hearing was the 16th in the trial.

Before starting the hearing Wednesday morning, acting Chief Justice Lee issued a warning, apparently at Park’s lawyers, that she had serious concerns about various attempts to undermine the independence of the court and the integrity of the trial. “All the people in this courtroom must refrain from taking any action that interrupts the trial,” she said.

Lee’s warning came after defense attorney Kim Pyung-woo’s provocative action during the last hearing. On Monday, Kim complained about the judges’ running of the trial. “Why are you working as Constitutional Court justices if you will run the trial thoughtlessly?” he yelled at the end of the hearing.

The warning, however, did little to stop Kim. He made a provocative and sensational argument for one hour and 35 minutes Wednesday afternoon when the court gave him a chance to speak.

Kim said the Constitutional Court lost its fairness by siding with the National Assembly, which acts as the prosecution in the impeachment trial. He argued that the court must side with the president.

“Elite lawyers are working on the side of Rep. Kweon Seong-dong, head of the impeachment committee, and the National Assembly is filled with powerful people,” Kim said. “But [President Park] is just one woman alone. It is the just path for the judges to think for the weak.”

He lodged particular complaints at Justice Kang Il-won. Complaining that Kang asks too many questions of the witnesses for the president, while refraining from questioning the National Assembly’s witnesses, Kim said, “This is too much. Kang can be mistaken as the senior spokesman of the National Assembly. He is not a judge.”

Lee tried to halt Kim’s remarks. “You overstepped the line. How dare you call him a spokesman?” Lee said.

Kim, however, was undeterred. He criticized Lee and said that the court must not hurriedly reach a conclusion in order to hand down a ruling before her retirement on March 13, 2017.

After the confrontation, another lawyer of Park, Jo Won-ryong, filed a motion to recuse Justice Kang from the trial, challenging his fairness. The court went into recess briefly to discuss the motion. The judges struck it down.

“This motion is solely intended to delay the trial, and we reject it for its inappropriateness,” acting Chief Justice Lee said.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]