[VIEWPOINT] Ideology must not overrule justiceIn 1977, Roh Moo-hyun was an associate judge at a district court’s criminal court. A fish-cake maker was indicted for using preservatives in his product, and Roh found that he was innocent. However, the other two judges disagreed and the man was found guilty. Having heard about Roh’s support, the fish-cake maker visited the judge later and brought him some drinks. Roh consoled the accused and stayed up all night to write a letter of appeal for him. In his memoir published in 1994, Roh wrote, “Now that I look back, it was an inconceivable act for a judge.” It is fortunate for the judiciary that Roh resigned from his position as a judge after a year.
While Roh Moo-hyun left the court in 1978, he made a comeback 27 years later in 2005, when he exercised his presidential authority and appointed Lee Yong-hun, who shared his “codes” as the chief justice of the Supreme Court. And under the chief justice, the judiciary branch of the Republic of Korea is caught in the vortex of ideology.
“A decision is made in the name of the citizens, not in the name of the judge,” Lee said. One might think he meant to emphasize the sovereign power of citizens, but considering the situation at the time, his intention and the impact of the statement were completely different. When Lee made the remark, Korean society was filled with leftist sentiment in the name of “citizens’ participation.” So Lee’s comment can be interpreted as a sort of progressive populism.
Surely enough, many judges have been influenced by ideological sentiment and ruled generously on illegality ever since. Many of the masterminds of the candlelight protests and those who used violence were released on bail or with probation. When the Democratic Labor Party’s executives occupied the National Assembly and staged a rally there, a young judge dismissed the prosecutor’s indictment. A prominent judge released the investigative records of the Yongsan incident to the defense counsel, and the prosecutors filed a peremptory challenge.
The latest addition to the ideology-influenced rulings is the acquittal of Kang Ki-kab. Although citizens witnessed his violence on television, he was found not guilty. Even an elementary school student can see Kang is guilty based on the National Assembly Act and the National Assembly Building Management Regulation. However, a judge with 14 years of experience found him innocent with absurd rhetoric. It is as if the judge ripped apart the law books and rewrote them by himself.
A more serious problem of the judiciary is that the chief justice of the Supreme Court has no sense of responsibility. The chief justice is the final fortress defending the spirit of the judicial branch. When he is shaken, the entire branch becomes unstable. Lee Yong-hun explained the position of the chief justice through the public relations officer. He said, “If a decision is flawed, it can be corrected through the appeal procedure.” However, he argued that if the initial ruling is considered faulty and the judge is attacked, it can defame the honor of the judge and influence the ruling of the appellate trial. And such criticism might pose a serious threat on the independence of the judiciary. Is he saying, then, that it is all right to cause personal and property damage to the citizens with a faulty initial ruling because there are second and third trials?
The chief justice’s position is at odds with his usual sayings and doings. In the New Year’s address, he said, “If we make even a slight mistake, you should reproach the judiciary.” Less than 20 days later, the chief justice seems to have forgotten his own words. In February 2006, a day after judges sentenced probation in the first trial on the Doosan Group’s slush-fund scandal, the chief justice said, “How can the citizens be convinced when a thief who stole 100 million won [$88,700] is sentenced to a prison term but the accused who embezzled 20 to 30 billion won are sentenced with probation?” While the chief justice harshly criticized the probation of the Doosan executives, he demands that no one condemn Kang Ki-kab’s acquittal.
Many prudent and brilliant judges have carefully accumulated the order of the judiciary branch for a long time. Those who damage the order are not the prosecutors or the media, but the absurd judges. They are the descendants of Judge Roh Moo-hyun, who could not distinguish a judge from counsel. Just as Roh did 33 years ago, some judges are acting like counsel for the defendant. And the chief justice of the Supreme Court is defending those judges instead of reprimanding them. The judicial branch is standing on its head.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Kim Jin