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Senior judges reject criminal probe of Yang

June 07,2018
Senior judges of the Seoul High Court opposed a criminal investigation of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae for abuse of power, saying such a probe would put the independence of the judicial branch at risk.

At a meeting Tuesday of 41 senior judges of the Seoul High Court, each with at least 20 years in the judiciary, an overwhelming number opposed a criminal investigation of Yang and adopted a resolution saying so. Yang has been accused of currying favor with the disgraced Park Geun-hye government with rulings and drawing up a blacklist of judges describing their political leanings.

“There was no objection to the adoption of a statement [opposing the criminal investigation],” one attendee was quoted as saying by the JoongAng Ilbo Wednesday. “The attendees overwhelmingly agreed that there shouldn’t be a legal charge.”

The adopted statement reads that the criminal prosecution against those involved in the case, if proven guilty, could put pressure on and influence the judicial deliberation process as a whole. “We express our deep concern over the possibility of infringing upon the judiciary’s independence,” it reads.

Ironically, Yang is accused of betraying the judiciary’s independence and the attendees acknowledged their “shared responsibility” for the loss of public trust in the integrity of the institution.

In Korea, the Supreme Court is in charge of most of the judicial system and the chief justice has vast powers.

The resolution by senior judges indicate a rift within the judicial branch. Relatively young judges are calling for a criminal probe to get to the bottom of the allegations.

Today, a meeting of 36 heads of courts nationwide is scheduled to take place. If the 36 attendees also oppose a criminal probe, as expected, the rift will widen.

Next Monday, a conference of junior judges is scheduled to take place and they are expected to call on Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su to ask the prosecution to launch a probe into the allegations.

The Yang scandal arose when an internal investigative team looked into practices at the Supreme Court when Yang served as chief justice from 2011 to 2017. It reported last month that it found 174 documents in the computers of the National Court Administration that may prove violations of the principle of separation of power between the executive and judiciary branches. Yang is accused of abusing his power on the Supreme Court to curry favor with the previous government and get support for his judicial agenda.

One of the top priorities for Yang during his tenure, which spanned the Lee Myung-bak and Park administrations, was to set up a “final appellate court” within the Supreme Court, which never came to fruition.

That court would have handled less important cases, leaving the Supreme Court to handle the most significant ones.

Chief Justice Kim said he will make a decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against Yang after hearing from judges

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court made public 98 documents found by its internal investigative team.

In one document, entitled “Ways to persuade the BH for the purpose of setting up the appellate court within the Supreme Court,” it reads, “Convictions on some of the charges for Rep. Park Jie-won, a ruling in favor of the ruling party for Won Sei-hoon [former head of the intelligence agency] can be used as conciliatory gesture towards the BH,” with BH referring to the Blue House.

“The judicial branch has been doing all that it can to support the president in conducting state affairs,” reads another document entitled “Cases of cooperation by the judicial branch on government management.”

BY KANG JIN-KYU, HYUN IL-HOON [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]