중앙데일리

Fracas over naming judges heats up

Aug 14,2003
A senior Blue House official yesterday said that President Roh Moo-hyun might not submit to the National Assembly the names of Supreme Court candidates that Chief Justice Choi Jong-yong recommends.
Such a move would be the latest shot in a war for control ― or “reform” ― of the court nomination process. On Tuesday Justice Minister Kang Gum-sil and Park Jae-seung, head of the Korean Bar Association, walked out of an advisory meeting to decide on Supreme Court candidates. They objected to three candidates chosen by Mr. Choi: Kim Yong-dam, chief justice of the Gwangju High Court; Kim Dong-gun, chief justice of the Seoul District Court, and Lee Keun-woong, chief justice at Daejeon High Court. The two Kims passed the bar exam with the 11th national class, and Mr. Lee with the 10th.
Ms. Kang and Mr. Park say that their nominations reflect an outdated hierarchical personnel appointment system.
Yesterday’s signal from the Blue House, therefore, is being taken as an indication that Mr. Roh will carry through with reform of the judiciary, a pledge stated at the outset of his administration.
“President Roh has not yet commented on selection of a chief justice, but I can say that his resolve for judicial reform is quite strong,” said the Blue House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I do not think President Roh will easily give up on that reform.
“Things are flexible, as the Supreme Court has not yet made the formal proposal,” the source said, adding that Mr. Roh is likely to wait and watch public opinion, the sentiment within the court and the chief justice’s final nomination.
The Supreme Court remained adamant. “Recommending a candidate judge for the Supreme Court is an inherent right of the chief justice, and will not change just because several advisory members oppose,” the court said in a statement yesterday. “As planned, we will recommend a shortlist to the president early next week.”
Selection of candidate judges for the Supreme Court must go through an advisory meeting, with the chief justice putting forth the recommendation to the president, who then submits a candidate for National Assembly approval. The candidate must pass through confirmation hearings and a floor vote of the Assembly.
Mr. Roh will have a chance to put his stamp on the Supreme Court, as 12 of the 13 current justices, including the Chief Justice, Mr. Choi, will end their tenure within Mr. Roh’s five-year administration. Chief Justice Choi’s service ends in 2005.
In appointing Ms. Kang as justice minister, Mr. Roh broke a precedent by which former prosecutors held the post. The president defended his choice before rank-and-file prosecutors on national television, quelling their resistance to the new minister, a former judge turned lawyer. Mr. Roh also used the occasion to reiterate the importance of prosecution independence from politics.
Younger judges backed Ms. Kang and Mr. Park. Park Si-hwan, a senior judge with the Seoul District Court, resigned yesterday, characterizing the shortlist as reflecting “a judiciary that retains the structure of the past authoritarian regimes.” Lee Yong-gu, 40, a judge with the Seoul District Court’s northern branch, urged the chief justice to repeal the three nominations in an e-mail through the court’s internal communications system. It warned that the nominations would be criticized for “reflecting the interests of the past.”
“I have received about 100 response e-mails from judges,” Mr. Lee said. “The opinions expressed will be conveyed in a joint presentation to the chief justice tomorrow morning.”
But insiders said that the prevailing view in the legal community is support for the chief justice’s right to recommend candidate judges, based on hierarchy.
“The chief justice took a courageous step to protect the status of the Supreme Court from the pressures of civic groups and others,” said a judge at the Seoul District Court.
“The constitution placed the power with the chief justice,” said another judge. “If we want to challenge that power, we must revise the constitution.”


by Kang Min-seok / Kim Ji-soo


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