115 judges tell chief justice not to ask for probe

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115 judges tell chief justice not to ask for probe

A group of judges representing courts nationwide issued a statement late Monday discouraging the current chief justice of the Supreme Court from requesting a formal investigation of his predecessor for abuse of power.

“It is not appropriate for the Supreme Court’s chief justice to request the prosecution to investigate the allegations,” said 115 judges representing local courts in a statement issued Monday after a meeting at the Judicial Research and Training Institute in Goyang, Gyeonggi. “Civic groups have already requested criminal investigations into the allegations numerous times. It would not be right for the court to request a criminal investigation when there are investigative authorities [that can make that decision].”

The judges did not rule out the possibility of a criminal probe into the allegations, as long as it is not pursued by the chief justice.

“We do agree that regarding the power abuse allegation of the judicial branch, there should be an impartial investigation including the option of a criminal investigation,” the statement said. “It must be found out who is responsible [for the alleged abuse of power].”

But some prosecutors said it would be difficult to investigate allegations against former Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae without an official request from the Supreme Court.

“We have to respect the decision of the court,” a prosecutor told the JoongAng Ilbo. “If the chief justice or the court does not request an investigation officially, it would be difficult for the prosecution to make the decision on its own and act.”

“For the prosecution, which is part of the central government, investigating the judicial branch without an official request from it may be interpreted as a violation of the principle of separation of powers,” another prosecutor told the JoongAng Ilbo.

Ironically, former Chief Justice Yang is accused of violating the separation of powers by currying favor with the disgraced and removed Park Geun-hye government with rulings and drawing up a blacklist of judges based on their political leanings. An internal investigative team found 174 documents in the computers of the National Court Administration, the administrative body of the Supreme Court, drafted during Yang’s time in office, which may prove the allegations. Yang served as Supreme Court chief justice from 2011 to 2017.

One document entitled “Ways to persuade the BH for the purpose of setting up the appellate court within the Supreme Court,” contains the following passage: “Convictions on some of the charges for Rep. Park Jie-won, a ruling in favor of the ruling party for Won Sei-hoon [former head of the intelligence agency] can be used as a conciliatory gesture towards the BH,” with BH referring to the Blue House.

“The judicial branch has been doing all that it can to support the president in conducting state affairs,” reads another document entitled “Cases of cooperation by the judicial branch on government management.”

Current Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su said he will make a decision after collecting opinions of judges - including that of the representative group of judges of local courts that met in Gyeonggi Monday - the heads of courts nationwide and a civic committee on reforming the judicial branch consisting of judges and other professionals.

The heads of courts nationwide, most of them senior judges, issued a statement Thursday opposing a criminal investigation into Yang stating, “it would be inappropriate for the judicial branch to seek a criminal investigation on the matter.”

The civic committee submitted a divided opinion after meeting on June 5.

Relatively young judges have been calling for a criminal probe to get to the bottom of the allegations.

BY HYUN IL-HOON, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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