Keep your promise, justice

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Keep your promise, justice

Park Sang-ok, the Supreme Court justice nominee, pledged in his legislative confirmation hearing that he will not open a private practice upon retiring from the country’s highest judicial post. He added that this was his promise to the people and the legislature, indirectly answering to the Korean Bar Association, which has demanded that Supreme Court justices refrain from practicing law in the private sector upon retirement.

The judiciary hailed the nominee’s promise as one that could set a meaningful precedent to break down the long-standing legacy of revolving-door practices, particularly deep-rooted special treatment for former judges. The question now could be rudimentary for all candidates waiting for confirmation at the National Assembly to become Supreme Court justices.

Questions over ethics were raised by the national bar association last month after former Supreme Court Judge Cha Han-sung announced his plans to return to work as an attorney. It is unfair that a person, who once enjoyed a prestigious position in the highest court, gets to serve as a law practitioner paid more than 1 billion won ($914,662) annually. It doesn’t make sense that a former public court title ensures a monthly salary of around 100 million from a law firm and thousands of dollars in commissions for a case just by including his or her name on the lawyers’ list. Last May, Ahn Dae-hee bowed out as the prime ministerial nominee after questions arose over how he managed to earn 2.7 billion won in just 10 months doing private business after he retired as a Supreme Court justice.

When Supreme Court justices return to private practice, they often demand outrageous service charges. This only distorts the legal service market and aggravates public distrust in the judicial system. The tradition also undermines the social justice system: Using public power for selfish interests impairs democracy and justice.

Public attorneys and judges argue that it is unfair to restrict lawyers’ career choices post-retirement because doing so goes against one’s constitutional rights. But their freedom should not come at the expense of waning public confidence in the judicial system. The Supreme Court must set its own guidelines on retirement plans.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 9, Page 30

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