The chief justice must quitThe expose about Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-soo amazes us. When Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge on the Busan High Court, came into his office to submit his resignation last May, Kim mentioned the need to “take into account political circumstances” before accepting his resignation. The chief justice even worried about “growing demands” for Lim’s impeachment by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) over his alleged attempt to influence a junior judge in a trial.
The lies the chief justice made in public are a bigger problem. Shortly after Lim described his conversation with Kim in a media interview, Kim denied it. But after a tape of the conversation was aired Thursday, he recanted and blamed his outright lies on “blurry memories nine months ago.”
Nine months is not that long ago. In a transcript of the conversation released to the press, Kim mentioned “impeachment,” “politics” and “National Assembly” over ten times. In the transcript, Kim even explained the exact reasons why he could not accept Lim’s resignation.
Just three days after DP lawmakers submitted a motion to impeach Lim, they passed it. They impeached Lim for allegedly pressuring a junior judge in a trial of a Japanese reporter who wrote about President Park Geun-hye’s inaction during the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2016. Lim’s suspicious act may deserve punishment, but he was already tried and acquitted.
The motion to impeach Lim was pressed ahead with only a month left until his tenure ends in March. After the motion was submitted, 161 lawmakers immediately endorsed and passed it onto a plenary session of the legislature. The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) claimed the DP was retaliating for courts’ repeated rulings against the DP and government since the launch of the administration.
The transcript showed that the chief justice had communicated with political circles, including the Blue House, over how to handle Lim since last May. Reps. Lee Tan-hee and Lee Su-jin, both former judges from a progressive group in the judiciary, were allies of the chief justice. The transcript also revealed that Kim had met President Moon Jae-in for two consecutive days ahead of his meeting with the senior judge in his room.
The bombshell revelation will reverberate. The integrity of the Supreme Court is challenged by the airing of the conversation. In his inaugural speech in 2017, Chief Justice Kim promised to establish a judicial branch that can be respected and trusted by the people. But he has let the people down very badly. Only his resignation can help keep the judiciary from a more precipitous fall from grace.