Bar associations grapple with ethical questions

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Bar associations grapple with ethical questions

After the Korean Bar Association (KBA) recommended a retired Supreme Court justice drop his plans to practice law, the lawyers’ group as well as the Seoul Bar Association (SBA) agreed that the long-held custom of affording special treatment to former judges must be eradicated, though both had different ideas about how it should be done away with.

Questions over ethics surfaced earlier this week when the national bar association rejected an announcement by former Supreme Court judge Cha Han-sung to return to work as an attorney.

Cha, who retired from the Supreme Court last year and completed his attorney registration earlier this year, reported to the SBA last week that he would begin practicing law as an attorney, and the paperwork was forwarded to the KBA.

The KBA turned down Cha’s application citing its campaign to do away with special treatment for former judges and sent the paperwork back to the SBA, but the local bar association refused to relay it to Cha, saying there were no procedural issues.

“We fully agree with the KBA’s intent to eradicate special favors, but it’s been questioned whether it was right to return the document, which we approved before forwarding it to the KBA,” said SBA Chairman Kim Han-gyu.

“According to KBA’s regulation concerning attorneys’ registration, papers for opening an office can be returned only when the applicant does not or cannot respond to the association’s request to complement the paperwork, and Cha’s documents did not have any deficiencies.”

Following disagreement over the document as well as mounting criticism that its anti-corruption campaign was restricting the personal freedom of the former justice, the KBA decided to return the application on its own.

“Since we know the documents had no problems and the KBA asked us to return the documents to them, we decided to give them back,” Kim said.

“Regulations stipulate that lawyers should send their applications via the SBA, but they don’t say we need to return them via the SBA,” KBA spokesperson Lee Hyo-eun added. “We will hand it in to Cha directly as soon as we get it back.”

The last time special treatment for judges became a publicly debated issue was last year when President Park Geun-hye named former Supreme Court justice Ahn Dae-hee as a prime ministerial nominee. Ahn, who was widely considered to be an honest judge, walked away from the nomination when lawmakers discovered he had earned 2.7 billion won ($2.4 million) in the 10 months following his retirement working as a lawyer.

Former Supreme Court justices typically receive around 50 million won or more per case.

When he was sworn in on Feb. 23, new KBA Chairman Ha Chang-woo pledged to eradicate the custom of special favors for retired judges.

On Wednesday, he posted an anecdote on his Facebook account in what appeared to be an attempt to illustrate his rationale.

“In 2008, a female lawyer came to me with a black eye,” the post read. “She said her clients, a mother and a son, paid her 50 million won ? 20 million for her and the other 30 million to a former Supreme Court judge to put his stamp on an application for trial at the Supreme Court. But when the trial was rejected, the clients came to her office, locked the door and beat her up to demand the money back.

“When I asked how she got the money back from the former Supreme Court justice, she said she couldn’t ask him for it and paid off the debt with her own money,” the post continued.

“This former judge is known to be earning a lot of money for just stamping those papers,” it continued, “and he was apparently unaware of these incidents.”

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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