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A justice on the Constitutional Court should judge a wide range of issues, from the legality in individual statutory provision to presidential impeachment. If a justice on the bench of the highest court raises questions of conflicts of interest, a ruling from the top court can also be challenged and cause major confusion. The bench members must therefore show the highest moral integrity.

Lee Mi-sun — a nominee to succeed a six-year vacancy on the nine-member bench — is said to have ruled over a case that she and her husband had an equal stake in. While a senior judge at the Seoul Central District Court last year, she handled a case that involved an accident at a construction site of a builder under OCI Group. She and her husband, who worked at a big law firm, held a total of 1.3 billion won ($1.1 million) worth of shares in the construction company. Lee claimed no wrongdoing as the case was filed by an insurer against the Korea Freight Forwarders Association to redeem unfair insurance claims and did not place the builder on the plaintiff or defendant stand. The ruling also did not favor the company in any way, she said.

But a judge should not have taken up a case in which she had a personal interest in order to leave no unnecessary misunderstandings. The couple purchased additional shares in the company before and after the ruling. Their move could go against the ethics codes of the justices and government employees. Lee also claimed the case did not betray any insider information.

The couple owned 3.5 billion won worth stocks, of which 2.4 billion won worth were entirely in listed stocks of OCI Group. Why they have so much interest in a single corporate name also raises questions.

The controversy over stock wealth of candidates to Constitutional Court justices is not a first. In 2017, Lee Yoo-jeong resigned from the nomination after she was known to have profited by more than 500 million won through her purchase of shares in an unlisted company with insider information. Both controversial candidates had been nominated by the president, putting Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk again under responsibility for slack screening in choosing candidates for senior public offices. The confirmation hearing for another Constitutional Court justice nominee Moon Hyung-bae was disrupted by complaints from opposition lawmakers against the president ramming through his appointments of ministers despite the legislature’s refusal to endorse them. The Blue House must give a more thorough explanation why these poor choices and appointment controversies are being repeated.

JoongAng Ilbo, April 10, Page 30
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