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[Newsmaker] Supreme Court chief justice in hot water over judge impeachment

Lawmakers vote to impeach sitting judge for first time in Korea’s modern history

Feb. 4, 2021 - 15:29 By Ko Jun-tae
Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su reports to his office in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su acknowledged that he had considered politicians’ plans to impeach Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge at the Busan High Court, when he refused to accept Lim’s resignation in May.

Kim said in a statement to reporters Thursday that he regretted making the erroneous claim that he had never mentioned anything about impeachment during the conversation he had with Lim at the time.

“I apologize for responding falsely based on uncertain memories of nine months earlier,” he said in the statement.

“From what I recall based on the recording files unveiled to the press, I believe I did say what was recorded based on my belief that it is not appropriate to accept a resignation outside the regular personnel appointment period.”

The apology came hours after Lim’s legal counsel revealed a recording and transcript of the conversation between Lim and Kim in May, following the Busan court judge’s offer to resign for health reasons.

Kim said in the recording that he would face backlash from the National Assembly if he approved Lim’s resignation, as lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea were proposing to impeach Lim.

The Supreme Court justice previously denied having ever mentioned impeachment, adding that he had offered to send Lim on sick leave and discuss resignation later on depending on whether Lim’s health improved.

After the recording was revealed, the main opposition People Power Party began discussing a motion to impeach Kim. He has disgraced one of the core values of being a judge, the party said.

The party also urged Kim to resign voluntarily, saying he had blatantly damaged the independence of the judicial branch by being swayed by political influence.

“Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim has cowardly stayed silent on the ruling administration’s moves to tame judges and pushed his colleague to the brink of impeachment by rejecting his offer to resign,” People Power Party leader Kim Chong-in said in a party meeting Thursday.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly on Thursday passed a bill to impeach Lim for allegedly abusing his power and meddling in a number of politically controversial trials in 2015 and 2016 during the Park Geun-hye administration. He was serving at the Seoul Central District Court then.

It is the first time in South Korea’s modern history that a sitting judge has been impeached, since the founding of the republic in 1948.

The main opposition party’s motion to discuss the impeachment at the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee was voted down.

The motion was put to a vote after a group of 161 lawmakers from the ruling party and minor liberal parties filed a motion under the lead of Democratic Party Rep. Lee Tahney. The motion also won support from Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon and Floor Leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon.

It was expected that the motion would pass as the ruling party controls 174 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. A motion for an impeachment requires at least 151 votes.

But as Lim’s term as a senior judge is set to expire in late February, the impeachment may fail to gain official confirmation from the Constitutional Court before Lim retires.

By Ko Jun-tae (