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[Opinion] Manager Choi’s Final Words of Advice

Posted September. 24, 2005 07:12,   


An incoming chief justice attended a friendly reception in his honor, and people crowded around to see the person from their hometown who had been so successful in life. It seemed they also expected special treatment from him. One old influential figure in town whispered to the chief justice about getting a favor for a trial he was involved in.

This is a story experienced by Chief Justice Choi Jong-young directly after he took office in September 1999. Since then, he has simply stopped participating in private gatherings, such as alumni association gatherings, and even has lunch by himself in his office most of the time.

They say that the biggest sacrifice of justices is being estranged from people. They keep a certain distance with people to avoid possible misunderstandings that, over time, make them feel incarcerated. One Supreme Court justice who resigned from his post not long ago even said, “Judges must not fear solitude. That solitude may seem an unwelcome darkness, but the familiarity with the darkness will give you the power to discern the existence of unknown things that wouldn’t ordinarily have been captured.”

Chief Justice Choi, who finished his six-year term on September 23, sharply criticized the recent practices of incompliance with legal procedures and rulings. He lamented the reality in his retirement speech, saying, “I feel so sorry about the recent series of behaviors that challenge and undermine the authority of trials under the name of public opinion.” Appointed a judge in 1965, he held firmly to the “hermit principle” for 40 years throughout his career. As a person who earned the nickname “Manager Choi” for being very meticulous at his work, this time he blatantly warned of a crisis of the rule of law. This is not something to be taken lightly.

The political circle’s challenge to the judicial power has never stopped, even to this day. As a ruling for the election law violation case in effect nullified the election, Uri Party members did not hesitate to demand countermeasures from the party leadership by saying, “We are the very ones who are disadvantaged by partial, arbitrary law interpretations of the judiciary.” Last year, some civic groups and ruling party members even talked of eliminating the Constitutional Court, which was a backlash against the court’s ruling that declared the capital relocation plan unconstitutional. The sole effort by the judiciary will not be sufficient to establish the rule of law. These were “Manager Choi’s” last words in office to us, and they deserve our serious attention.

Song Dae-keun, Editorial Writer, dksong@donga.com