[Viewpoint] Judge Kim is not a Martian“This is my brother, and he will soon be a senior prosecutor,” a judge quoted his sister as introducing him to her friends recently. He complained that even his family member was unable to differentiate between a judge and a prosecutor.
In fact, they are not that much different in the eyes of many people. They both graduate from similar universities, pass the bar exam and study at the Judicial Research and Training Institute together. They could be called partners on the same journey. Although their positions are different, they are both working to protect people’s lives and property.
In the early 1990s, I was a junior reporter covering the judiciary, and I could feel a sense of bonding between members of the courts and the prosecution that they were both attorneys at law. Prosecutors respected talented judges, while judges trusted indictments of sharp prosecutors. The bond, however, appeared to be broken in the late 1990s after the judges became conservative in issuing pretrial detention warrants.
The confrontation and conflict between the judges and the prosecutors are not necessarily bad because they can check each other. The tension, however, must be healthy and productive. The recent response of the prosecution to the ruling on the bribery case of Kwak No-hyun, superintendent of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, was inappropriate.
After the court only punished Kwak with a fine, a senior member of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office said, “I cannot understand the ruling because it appeared to be made by a Martian. I am an Earthling.” It was a complaint about Judge Kim Hyeong-du’s verdict.
I also cannot agree with Kim’s logic of separating the action and responsibility in his ruling. While handing down a three-year imprisonment to Park Myong-gee, a professor at Seoul National University of Education, for bowing out of the 2010 election for Seoul education superintendent in return for a promise made by Kwak’s aides to pay him, the judge did not issue any prison term to Kwak, who later paid Park based on the promise. That is nonsense.
But the usage of word “Martian” in the prosecutor’s criticism is more than a simple complaint. It was an emotional label. While a Martian means an imaginary intellectual creature living in the planet Mars, the word is used in Korea more commonly for a person who is living a strange life within the walls of his own.
The expression is now quoted very frequently in protests against the ruling. Last week, conservative activists held rallies in front of Kim’s house and held up picket signs that read “We denounce the Martian judiciary.”
Such a demonstration is not that much different from the performance hosted by the supporters of former Democratic Party lawmaker Chung Bong-ju in December last year after his election law violation conviction was finalized.
Attacking the character of a judge will likely prompt a crisis. The prosecution ended up fueling the protests with its actions.
The prosecutors were also increasingly criticizing the judges, and the criticism often went too far. They complained that the judges issue pretrial detention warrants without any principle, calling the warrants random. They also criticized the judges for making a political decision by acquitting former Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook of bribery charges. They also said the judges were trying to please the financial power after executives of security companies were acquitted one after another.
Whenever they lose a case, the prosecutors complain with cruel words. The prosecution probably felt frustrated and disappointed at the judges when the courts did not agree with their views and issued strong punishments.
But emotional responses are not desirable, and the prosecution has more to lose than its has to gain by reacting emotionally. When the prosecution criticizes the judiciary with political words, the trust in the rule of law can be shaken. If a judge is a Martian, then a prosecutor can be seen as a Martian as well.
Moreover, prosecutors will likely lose ground in courtrooms if they complain and pressure the judiciary too much. Judges could begin trials with unfavorable impressions of the prosecution.
Our constitution guarantees the right to three trials presided over by three different judges. The prosecution must calmly check the facts in their cases and sharpen their strategies in the courtrooms. The prosecution’s position must be expressed through appeals at trial.
If prosecutors really have to say something, they should express their opinions respectfully in the proper forums and do so with professionalism and restraint.
We will see many confrontations between the prosecution and the judiciary this year. I would like to see prosecutors raise objections in a low voice with a calm attitude.
* The author is the national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kwon Suk-chun