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Competing High Court Recommendations

Posted May. 29, 2006 03:00,   


With only a few days before May 29, the deadline for recommendation of successors to five Supreme Court justices that retire in July, relevant organizations are engaged in a fierce “off-the-court tug of war.”

These groups are trying their strength against others by announcing the list of recommended candidates decided according to their own stances and orientations.

Fierce Competition off the Supreme Court-

After the upcoming nomination of Supreme Court justices is over, there will be no changes in the formation of justices for the next two and a half years. With five out of 13 justices changing at once, legal circles are not the only ones paying keen attention to who will replace the outgoing justices, for every single decision the Supreme Court makes has tremendous significance on society.

Against this backdrop, not only lawyers’ associations but also the Court Workers’ Union, civic groups and even individuals have recommended candidates and announced their lists. There has also been a series of statements criticizing other groups’ lists, triggering more emotional quarrels. These moves are aimed at “putting pressure,” taking into account the Justice Nomination Advisory Committee’s (JNAC) meeting set to be held on June 5.

The Korean Bar Association (KBA) exceptionally opened its list of justice candidates to the public on May 29; its recommendation has so far been made behind closed doors.

The KBA announced those who had passed the 20th Korean Bar Examination or later ones are excluded from recommendation, possibly in response to the candidate list announced by People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) on May 25.

The PSPD list includes such candidates as Presiding Judge Yoon Jae-yoon of the Seoul High Court (21st Bar Examination); Presiding Judge Lee In-bok of the Seoul High Court (21st Bar Examination); and Presiding Judge Kim Sang-jun of the Seoul Administration Court (25th Bar Examination).

As three out of seven recommended candidates are those who passed the Korean Bar Examination later than court presidents and others currently holding equivalent positions—who passed the 17th or 18th Bar Examination—controversy is mounting in and out of the Supreme Court.

The Court Workers’ Union formed the “Pan-National Justice Nomination Committee” in association with the National Professors’ Association for Democracy and other civil groups; it announced 12 recommended candidates on May 26.

On May 25, when the PSPD announced its list, a rightist group, “The Lawyers for Citizens,” also recommended six candidates for Supreme Court justices’ posts.

The group did not open its list to the public, but announced it recommended three incumbent judges, one prosecutor-turned lawyer, and two former judges who are now serving as lawyers.

The “People’s Congress for Advancement,” a group led by lawyer Lee Seok-yeon and Professor Park Se-il of Seoul National University (SNU), released a statement on the day: “Some civic groups are exerting more influence than a mere recommendation by opening their candidate lists to the public. Their acts are highly likely to result in judicial ochlocracy and a crisis in judicial order.”

Who Are Likely Candidates and When the Decision Will Be Made-

Professor Yang Chang-soo of the SNU College of Law is considered the de facto single candidate from academia. Vice Justice Minister Kim Hee-ok is a strong candidate from the prosecution. Among “local judges,” President Kim Jong-dae of the Changwon District Court is the most likely candidate; within the court, President Lee Hong-hun of the Seoul Central District Court has an inside track. For the female share, lawyer Kim Duk-hyun and President Jeon Su-an of the Gwangju District Court are competing against each other.

The JNAC will hold a meeting on June 5 to decide whether the candidates recommended by each group are eligible for the posts.

The JNAC has usually selected a triple number of candidates to recommend the candidates to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun will recommend five Supreme Court justices to President Roh Moo-hyun in mid-June; incoming justices will go through the National Assembly confirmation hearing and take office in July.

When the nomination of five Supreme Court justices is made, nine out of 13 members of the Supreme Court—including the chief justice—will have changed in 10 months since the inauguration of Chief Justice Lee in September 2005.