A favored defendantThe court has granted another exception to Chung Kyung-sim, wife of former Justice Minister Cho Kuk, in her trial on multiple counts including fabricating a presidential award for her daughter from Dongyang University, where she taught. It is not allowing members of the public or the press to attend her trial.
The Seoul Central District Court cited the criminal law act that gives the bench the authority to keep a courtroom closed if there is a threat of disruption to the trial process. But why such extra privacy is being given to Chung raises questions.
The Korean Constitution in principle requires all court procedures to be open to the public. The court can decide to close them to the public if it has concerns about national security or disruption to law and order or social upset. Judges choose to keep trials closed if there are concerns about leaks of confidential information or the possibility of secondary injury to victims of rape or other physical offenses.
But how do any of the crimes Chung is charged with — fabrication of a school award for use in college admissions, illicit management of private equity funds or violation of the real name financial transaction act — fall into the category of endangering national security or the social order?
The preparatory hearings leading to the trial also fall under constitutional principles. Prosecutors have been protesting irregular procedures in Chung’s case.
In one earlier hearing, the bench denied changes to the indictment even when the prosecutors claimed they had left out key testimony. The judge and prosecutor exchanged fiery arguments in the court. The prosecutor accused the judge of being “one-sided,” while the judge criticized the prosecutor for raising a media hoopla.
The judge must be fair to a defendant in his or her court. But fairness must be within the law. A case involving the wife of a key political figure implicated in a number of charges requires extra discretion to ensure credibility for the trial results.
Chung had been given preferential treatment from the beginning as she was allowed to finish prosecution questioning without facing the press. Even when she was publicly questioned, she did not have to worry about pictures of her face being splashed over newspaper front pages.
Investigations were cut short because of her alleged health problems. No other suspect has received so many favors. If Chung has gained such benefits for political reasons, the court could risk losing public confidence, which puts our whole democratic system at risk.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 10, Page 30