[VIEWPOINT]New chief justice is no Yamaguchi

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[VIEWPOINT]New chief justice is no Yamaguchi

Judges seem to regard the controversy over the chief justice’s unpaid taxes and farewell payments to judges before he took his new job as retaliation by prosecutors. They say prosecutors leaked slanderous information targeting the chief justice because they were angry at the court for its frequent rejections of warrants. The family feud between the court and prosecutors is their own business, however it may be interpreted. But let’s view it another way. In the people’s eyes, the court is currently seen as the one subjected to criticism. Who would like to bring cases before this court and be willing to accept their decisions?
According to “Supreme Court of Japan” written by Yuji Yamamoto, Japan’s judiciary experienced its greatest difficulties from 1945 to 1948, right after the country’s defeat in World War II. The headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was then the ruler of Japan, was possessed with the idea that Japanese judges were a tool of the former military fascists. The book introduced two judges who were noteworthy during that period. One was Choryo Hosono, a heavyweight judge. The other, Yoshitada Yamaguchi, was a 33-year-old obscure judge.
Japanese judges consistently backed Hosono as the chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court. He was the only judge who had resisted military fascism and he also actively advocated the independence of the court. Yet he took too much pride in his past and would ask others, “What did you do when I was resisting the military dictatorships?”
His comments were similar to ones made by the Korean chief justice, who said, “Those who sang songs and cast off their shoes in the court during the military dictatorships are now operating the state’s affairs.”
Japanese judges shook their heads over Hosono’s self-righteous behavior. Hosono, who became a loner, eventually left his position.
The one who saved the cornered judiciary of Japan was Yamaguchi. He was a judge at the Tokyo District Court in charge of Food Control Act violation cases. At that time, Japan was suffering from a serious food shortage. As rice production fell to half of the pre-war amount, people were starving to death, one after another. The MacArthur headquarters strictly enforced the Food Control Act to restrict rations for adults to 300 grams or 11 ounces (which is the same amount North Koreans got during their march against hardship). The black market for rice prospered. More than 120 people every year were caught under the food control law, to the extent that there was a saying: “All honest people are in prison.”
After finishing his service, judge Yamaguchi collapsed on the stairs and later died of severe malnutrition. In his diary on his sickbed, instead of a will, he wrote, “If I, a judge, eat rice from the black market, how can I judge the accused? I would rather die happily under the food control law.” Yamaguchi endured rationed rice to the end.
General MacArthur was shocked at the news. His headquarters in Japan supported the independence of the judiciary in name and in reality, by promoting the chief justice of the Supreme Court to the same level as that of the prime minister. His action greatly improved the treatment of judges.
(For reference, Aeeshiro Gameo, a teacher at a high school in Tokyo at the time, behaved in the same manner. He chose hunger, saying, “I cannot commit illegal things myself while telling students to lead an upright life.” His starvation death was considered a critical opportunity to restore social trust and respect for teachers in Japan.)
We earnestly hope our chief justice’s argument against the criticism will prove to be true. If he resigns regardless of his legally guaranteed term in office, it is an unfortunate event for all Koreans. But the fact that the chief justice did not have the common touch became obvious.
He should apologize for his remarks, “I will set straight the honorable treatment of the predecessors,” and “I will resign if I did not pay any taxes.” I wonder to whom he made this remark: “However excellent in legal knowledge, those who have suspicious morality and integrity are not qualified to be a judge.”
The court of Japan did not collapse just because Hosono resigned. Rather, the right behavior of a young judge called Yamaguchi rescued the court from the crisis.
In this regard, Korea’s high-ranking judges should keep themselves from defending the chief justice by saying, “The entire judiciary will fall if the head justice falls.”
It is also uncomfortable to hear them say things like, “We will serve the people” or, “We will judge in the name of the people.” The people will be touched by judges like Yamaguchi who silently kept the law, however bad it might have been, at the risk of their lives.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Chul-ho
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