Park’s lawyers find new reason to delay verdict

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Park’s lawyers find new reason to delay verdict


Yang Sung-tae(L), Lee Jung-mi(R) [JOONGANG PHOTO]

Following a media report that a successor to a retiring judge of the Constitutional Court will be nominated next week, President Park Geun-hye’s lawyers argued Friday that the new judge must be included in the ongoing impeachment trial.

The court rebuffed the argument.

The JoongAng Ilbo published an exclusive report Friday saying Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae will soon nominate a successor for Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi of the Constitutional Court.

“After the Constitutional Court hears closing arguments of Park’s impeachment trial, Yang will announce a nomination,” a source from the Supreme Court told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday. “There is a high possibility that the announcement will be made next week.”

The National Assembly impeached President Park on Dec. 9, 2016, for alleged constitutional and criminal violations by allowing her secret inner circle influence state affairs. Over the past months, the Constitutional Court held a series of hearings to decide whether to remove her permanently from office.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday and the judges are expected to take about two weeks after them to deliberate before announcing a ruling.

As of now, the Constitutional Court’s nine-member bench is running the trial with a vacancy. Chief Justice Park Han-chul ended his term on Jan. 31, 2017, and Acting Chief Justice Lee’s tenure will end on March 13, 2017.

According to the Constitutional Court Act’s Article 23, the full bench, composed of nine justices, is required to review an impeachment case with the attendance of seven or more justices. A vote of six or more justices is required in case of an impeachment, the article also says.

The president, the Supreme Court chief justice and the National Assembly each nominate three justices of the bench. While former chief justice Park was appointed by the president, Lee was appointed by the Supreme Court chief justice. Experts say that Yang must quickly nominate a successor for Lee, while it is inappropriate for Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president, to make a nomination for Park Han-chul’s successor.

Yang has delayed making a nomination because of the peculiar nature of the impeachment trial. “It was undesirable for the Supreme Court to be mired in a political debate,” the Supreme Court source said.

The Supreme Court also issued a statement Friday that it has no intention to influence the impeachment trial with the nomination plan. It said the nomination will take place after the closing arguments are made for the impeachment trial, but no specifics were decided on the timing.

“If the Supreme Court nominates a successor, it can be seen as a message to the Constitutional Court to take more time before making the ruling,” said Chang Young-soo, a professor of law at the Korea University.

The National Assembly’s impeachment committee, which acts as the prosecution in the trial, has argued that the court must rule on the case before another vacancy is created on the bench on March 13.

Following the report about the Supreme Court’s plan to nominate a successor to the outgoing acting chief justice of the Constitutional Court, Park’s lawyers said closing arguments in the impeachment trial must be delayed.

“The nomination is a significant change of the situation concerning the trial,” said lawyer Sohn Beom-kyu. “We will notify the Constitutional Court our objection to its decision to wrap up the hearings and hear closing arguments [on Monday].”

The ruling Liberty Korea Party supported the argument. Rep. Kim Jin-tae, chief negotiator from the party on the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Friday, signed by all ruling party members on the committee, to demand more time for the impeached president in the trial.

“The acting president and the Supreme Court chief justice should nominate successors to acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi and former Chief Justice Park Han-chul,” said Kim. “When the vacancies are filled, the Constitutional Court has no reason to hurry. It must guarantee enough defense time for the president and make a ruling by including the successors.”

Opposition parties said the impeachment trial schedule has nothing to do with the nomination of Lee’s successor. “Trying to link the nomination and the trial schedule is just another stalling tactic,” said Rep. Lee Chun-seok of the Democratic Party, a member of the impeachment committee.

The Constitutional Court said it will not change the closing argument date. “Monday is the day,” Bae Bo-yoon, spokesman of the court, said Friday. “The eight justices had an agreement and made the schedule. There will be no change.” The court also said Park’s lawyers did not submit a final statement before a Thursday deadline. The National Assembly said it submitted a 297-page statement to the court on Thursday and is preparing its final argument.

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