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Supreme Court issues apology

Chief justice has yet to decide whether to punish predecessor
June 01,2018
The Supreme Court’s chief justice apologized on Thursday for his predecessor’s alleged power abuse after an internal investigation found that he tried to curry favor with the previous government to gain support for his judicial agenda.

“On behalf of the judicial branch, I sincerely apologize for the shock and disappointment the people must have felt when the special investigative team announced its results last week about the branch’s alleged power abuse,” Kim Myeong-su said in a statement. “The judicial branch will heed the people’s reproach and take this as an opportunity to reform. We will take strict disciplinary measures against those involved and determine whether to publicly release information from internal investigations.”

Kim said he had yet to make a decision on whether to bring criminal charges against his predecessor, Yang Sung-tae, and others involved in the case. Yang faces a litany of accusations, including influencing decisions at the Supreme Court and even creating a blacklist of judges based on their political and ideological leanings.

“Not all the allegations have been confirmed to be true yet,” Kim said, “and the Supreme Court, which makes the final decision on cases, has to take prudence in bringing criminal charges. Therefore, I will wait to hear the opinions of various committees before making a decision on whether to seek criminal charges for people involved in the allegations.”

The claims against Yang first surfaced last year through an anonymous statement to the media. In it, a judge said he heard from an official in the National Court Administration (NCA), the Supreme Court’s administrative body, that there was a blacklist of judges on the administration’s computers.

Yang was the chief justice at the time. The Supreme Court conducted an internal investigation into the allegation but did not have authority to access the computers and email server of the NCA because administrators refused to allow access. The internal investigation team announced in April last year that it could not find the blacklist.

Kim Myeong-su was inaugurated as chief justice in September 2017. In November, he ordered a second internal investigation into the allegations after some judges called for it. The team was able to access some of the computers and found leads to suggest the NCA collected information on the political and ideological leanings of judges but could not investigate the computer of its former head, Lim Jong-hun, without his consent. There were also about 760 files of interest that were locked with passwords in the computers of NCA officials.

In February, Kim ordered the formation of a third team to open the locked documents and Lim’s computer. The third team released its findings on Saturday, and they included documents written by the NCA during Yang’s reign that raised concerns about violations of judiciary independence. Some included directives to curry favor with the president at the time, Park Geun-hye. “Regarding cases that may have strong national or societal influences, or are about sensitive political issues,” one directive read, “communicate with the Blue House unofficially, and in advance, to make sure that the Supreme Court does not dole out unexpected rulings.”

The team also found traces of attempts by the NCA to blacklist judges by their political and ideological leanings but said that it could recommend charges against those involved because there were “no traces of harm done to those listed.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]