Top court studying liberal set of judges

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Top court studying liberal set of judges

As conservative pressure to break up a research group of liberal judges grows, the Supreme Court has launched an internal investigation into the Society for Research on Our Law, a spokesman of the nation’s highest court said yesterday.

“Accepting the politicians’ recommendation that the judiciary should be aware of the actual situation associated with private organizations of judges such as the Society for Research on Our Law and the Society for Research on Cases of Civil Law, a survey is currently ongoing,” said Lee Dong-keun, a spokesman for the Supreme Court. “We will not only examine research groups, but also sports and other groups to find out the number of private associations and their members. We will also check to see if they are engaged in any activities that are against judicial ethics.”

The probe comes after Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon’s recent warning that judges not make rulings based on personal preferences. At the inauguration ceremony of newly appointed judges last week, Lee said “an unusual, unilateral decision of a judge that is unacceptable to other judges cannot be seen as conscience.” He also said that “a standard that is not acceptable as a society’s norms must never be packaged as a judge’s conscience.”

Though the new survey has fueled speculation that the Supreme Court will decide the fate of the Society for Research on Our Law, a senior court official denied that is the intent.

“We are looking into various groups, and the Society for Research on Our Law happens to be one of them,” he said. “We have no plan to take action against it.”

The society, established in 1988, came under heavy fire this winter after a series of alleged “left-leaning” verdicts. As concern rose over the political power wielded by liberal judges, the Grand National Party pressed for the breakup of the society for allegedly influencing high-profile decisions.

The society was formed during the Roh Tae-woo administration to protest the president’s decision to retain Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Young-chul from the previous Chun Doo Hwan regime. About 430 judges joined the group at the time, and their move eventually led to Kim’s resignation.

The society today is believed to have about 130 members, but a list of members has not been made public.

The conservative pressure reached a peak in late January when five MBC production staffers were acquitted of charges that they defamed government officials and obstructed the business of U.S. beef importers by broadcasting controversial “PD Diary” episodes about mad cow disease in 2008.

Supreme Court Justice Park Ill-hoan, who is also the minister of national court administration, however, told the National Assembly that it is impossible for the court to take action because the society did not commit any illegality. Though the court has maintained that position, the Grand Nationals have continued their attacks.

The liberal judges’ group says it will not succumb to pressure. “The conservatives’ demand is nothing new. We won’t be bothered and will continue our activities,” Oh Jae-seong, a senior judge of the Suwon District Court who heads the Society for Research on Our Law, said last month. Judge Moon Hyung-bae of Busan District Court, former head of the society, wrote Tuesday night on his Twitter page that group members were in danger of being excluded from reappointment unless they leave the society.

Moon later said he was merely reacting to the GNP wrath and that he actually doesn’t believe the Supreme Court will take action against society members.

By Ser Myo-ja, Choe Sun-uk []
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