A belated trial
The witnesses in the case of the government’s illegal meddling in the June 13, 2018 Ulsan mayoral election could appear on the stand 22 months after their indictments. The questioning involved whether the Blue House and the police methodically helped a candidate close to President Moon Jae-in to defeat the sitting mayor of Ulsan. Any illegalities must be punished, but at the same time, the judiciary must be held accountable for negligence.
The essence of the case is on the allegation that the Blue House and government offices allegedly helped Song Cheol-ho — a longtime friend of Ppresident Moon — to draw up his election platforms and the police investigated wrongdoings of Kim Gi-hyeon, the mayor running for another term. The opposition People Power Party (PPP) claims the Blue House meddled in the election from the designing stage and accused the president of giving the orders.
Because of the implication on the president, the investigation stalled from the beginning. Then-Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae pressured then-prosecutor general Yoon Seok-youl to drop the case and demoted prosecutors working on it.
Despite the setbacks, prosecutors indicted Song, former presidential secretary on political affairs Han Byung-do, former presidential secretary on civil affairs Baek Won-woo, and Lee Jin-suk, presidential secretary for state affairs monitoring, and nine others for violating the Public Office Election Law.
Kim Mi-ri, the senior judge assigned to the case last year only held preparatory hearings and did not hold the trial for 15 months.
The judge used to be a member of the progressive group of judges called Woori Law Society, which was headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-soo. In April, Judge Kim went on a leave, and the first trial under a new bench was held in May, 16 months after the indictment.
In the trial on Monday, the plaintiff Kim — the former Ulsan mayor and now the PPP floor leader — vowed to find the person in command and place them on trial.
An election crime that distorted public sentiment must be punished. A fair trial must be ensured for independency in the judiciary system. If the court loses fairness under political pressure or out of bias, democracy could fall.
The judiciary must restore confidence by administering the trial based on law and conscience without the influence of political power.