Prosecutors grill judge on judicial blacklist

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Prosecutors grill judge on judicial blacklist

Prosecutors questioned a senior judge in the Masan branch of the Changwon District Court on Wednesday over suspicions that he drafted documents on the political leanings of judges who disagreed with a former Supreme Court chief justice, in a growing probe of power abuse in the judiciary.

A special team at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office is investigating former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae and his associates over allegations that Yang tried to curry favor with the Park Geun-hye government by pressuring judges to make decisions favorable to Park in politically sensitive trials.

The judge questioned on Wednesday, who prosecutors would only identify by his surname Kim, is suspected of drafting documents on judges who openly objected to Yang’s agenda. Kim is the first judge who prosecutors have come forward about in their widening probe of ethical infractions in the judiciary. That they made public their questioning of a sitting judge indicates their determination to proceed with the investigation, which has been frustrated by the court’s repeated denials of search warrants on judges ensnared in the scandal.

Prosecutors believe Kim wrote the reports when he worked at the National Court Administration, the Supreme Court’s administration office, for two years from February 2015. The targets were allegedly judges who voiced opposition to Yang’s agenda of setting up another appellate court within the Supreme Court that would strengthen its power, a goal that never came to fruition. One of the documents, titled “Situations regarding a post by Judge Cha and possible responses,” suggests there were career-related retributions for judges who stood in Yang’s way.

The scandal dates back to May when an internal investigation of the Supreme Court’s practices during Yang’s tenure between 2011 and 2017 unearthed hundreds of documents in the computers of the National Court Administration that suggested violations of judiciary independence. The suspicion is that Yang wanted Park’s favor to gain approval for his appellate court. The appellate court would have handled less important cases, allowing the Supreme Court to handle more significant ones.

One of the documents indicated decisions that might be favorable for the “BH,” or Blue House. “Convictions on some of the charges for Rep. Park Jie-won and a ruling in favor of the ruling party for Won Sei-hoon can be used as a conciliatory gesture toward the BH,” the document read.

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