Top court may lose a justice to prosecution

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Top court may lose a justice to prosecution

The Constitutional Court is going through turmoil as approval of its new chief justice has been held up by the legislature. And another justice may be moving to head up the country’s prosecution.

Local newspapers reported yesterday that Ahn Chang-ho, a 55-year-old justice of the court, has agreed to a Ministry of Justice background check so he can be considered as a candidate for prosecutor general. It was the first time a Constitutional Court justice agreed to a background check during his term for a job change.

According to sources from the prosecution, the Justice Ministry and Constitutional Court, several veteran jurists from outside the prosecution were recommended as new head of the prosecution to the incoming Park Geun-hye administration. Of them, Ahn was the only one who agreed to the background check, they said.

The ministry will report the names of eligible candidates to the candidate recommendation committee later this week.

At the recommendation of the ruling Saenuri Party, Ahn resigned from the top job in the Seoul High Prosecutors’ Office last August to become a Constitutional Court justice. His term began last September.

An official from the court said it was frustrating to see Ahn consider leaving the court after only four months.

“Although both posts are ministerial level, I cannot understand his decision to ditch the Constitutional Court to become prosecutor general,” he said.

Ahn told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday that he thought deeply about the change in jobs. “I listened to advice from my junior friends in the legal community,” he said. “And I agreed to the process to give a wider spectrum of candidates to the president-elect.”

Others worry that Ahn’s possible departure will jeopardize the operations of the court.

“We’re not sure when a new chief justice will take office,” said an official of the court. “If another vacancy is created, then the Constitutional Court cannot perform its function properly.”

The court is composed of nine judges including the chief justice. The court must have at least seven judges to try a constitutional petition.

The court has been without a chief justice since Lee Kang-kook retired on Jan. 21.

Lee Dong-heub, nominated by both President Lee Myung-bak and President-elect Park to be the next chief justice, was hammered with accusations about his integrity during confirmation hearings at the National Assembly last week. Ruling and opposition lawmakers failed to reach a decision on whether to approve the nomination and pressured Lee to step down voluntarily.

While some media reported that Lee would likely give up his nomination, he was not budging as of yesterday evening.

The judges of the court yesterday elected Justice Song Doo-hwan as acting chief justice. Under the law, the court was to call a meeting of more than seven judges to elect an acting chief justice by a majority vote if the top position remained vacant for more than a week.

Established in 1988, the Constitutional Court is one of the most respected institutions in the country. In a JoongAng Ilbo and East Asia Institute’s survey in 2011, the court was ranked fourth in both public confidence and the power of its influence, the highest among government institutions.

The prosecution, Blue House and police were ranked high on the list for their power but low in public confidence.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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