Superintendent Cho goes to court to keep job

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Superintendent Cho goes to court to keep job

The superintendent of the capital city’s education office, who was convicted of spreading false information about his rival during the election, is determined to fight back.

Seoul Superintendent Cho Hee-yeon called a meeting with officials of the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education on Friday and announced that he would file a constitutional lawsuit, claiming that the law that found him guilty of disseminating false information does not exist in most advanced countries.

Cho was fined 5 million won ($4,640) for spreading rumors that one of his rivals, Koh Seung-duk, was a permanent resident of the United States during the campaign last year. If the fine is upheld in the Supreme Court, Cho would also lose his position.

“I was accused of not bribery or corruption, but rather censured for my statements and press conferences during the election,” said Cho at the meeting. “I personally believe I am innocent, so I will pursue an appellate trial and fight again there.”

“The Public Official Election Act, the grounds for my charge, does not exist in most of the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” he continued. “I am preparing a constitutional lawsuit because the law overly restricts individuals’ freedom of speech.”

But since the Constitutional Court turned down the same constitutional lawsuit six years ago, it is unlikely that Cho can make the law invalid and remove the risk of losing his job.

Independent lawmaker Lee Moo-young, elected in April 2008, lost his parliamentary seat after just 8 months in office when he was convicted of violating the Public Official Election Act. He was fined 3 million won by the Supreme Court, and though he filed a lawsuit claiming the act was unconstitutional, all justices unanimously upheld the law’s validity.

Some are accusing Cho of just trying to hold onto his job a little longer with the lawsuit. The legal process within the Supreme Court should last less than six months, but the case could drag out longer if the Constitutional Court decides to accept his complaint and review the law.

But it is also possible that Cho feels legitimately aggrieved.

“The case was closed by the Seoul’s election committee after giving warnings to both me and Koh, and I was not charged by the police,” said Cho in Friday’s briefing.

“Some people also spread groundless rumors that my son avoided his military service or that I was related to the now-disbanded the Unified Progressive Party, but none of them have been prosecuted.”

The controversy over the direct election system for local superintendent is still ongoing. Seoul’s education authority has had four superintendents, including Cho, since the direct election system was introduced in 2008, but two of them could not complete their terms because they were also convicted of violating the Public Official Election Act. Moon Yong-lin, Cho’s predecessor, is also in a legal battle with Koh, who at the end of last year filed a complaint against Moon. He said that Moon claimed to be the only conservative candidate.


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