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(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Jan. 16)

All Headlines 07:00 January 16, 2020

Abdication of responsibility

Court trials can be excruciating processes. No one is 100 percent satisfied unless they win total victory. And yet the public respects courts and judges because of its trust in their conscience and independence. Any judge worthy of respect would reminded themselves of their sacred duty at every trial -- particularly when their own raison d'être is at stake.

But if they are suspected of trying to take advantage of their career for political purposes, their integrity and prestige immediately collapses because of the public's concern that they may deliver rulings that suit their own political calculations. Unfortunately, such a mishap occurred on Wednesday. Choi Gi-sang, a senior judge for the Seoul Northern District Court, tendered his resignation to allegedly run in the April 15 parliamentary election. Lee Su-jin, another senior judge at the Suwon District Court, took a similar path a few days ago.

The two judges were members of groups of reform-minded judges. Choi served as president of a progressive study group while Lee was a member of a group studying international human rights law. Both judges first raised suspicions about the National Court Administration (NCA)'s abuse of power in 2018. They took the lead in attacking the Supreme Court and the NCA for wielding influence in appointments of judges across the country in a crusade to protect independence in court trials and enhance public trust in the judiciary. They are shaking the integrity of our courts now. Did they really play the role of whistleblowers in a bid to shore up the dignity of the bench?

Shortly after the launch of the liberal Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017, Kim Hyung-yeon -- a senior judge and member of the international human rights law study group at the time -- resigned and started his career as secretary for legal affairs at the Blue House. Last May, he was promoted to head the Ministry of Government Legislation. The stampede of a number of judges to the Blue House or ruling party was unprecedented.

A Constitutional guarantee of judges' independence and their hefty pay translate into a demand for fair and upright rulings from them. It is discourtesy from such a noble tribe to enjoy such prestigious treatment and move on to desire political power.

We hope they wake up from their delusions of grandeur. If not, they will suffer a cold verdict from voters. Even when a foundation of democracy is shaking, Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-soo is keeping mum. That's an abdication of responsibility.

(END)

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