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(4th LD) Parliament passes impeachment motion against judge accused of judicial power abuse

All News 19:04 February 04, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 11,16-18)

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- In an unprecedented move, the National Assembly passed a motion Thursday to impeach a senior judge who has been accused of abusing judicial power in several politically sensitive court rulings.

The motion to oust Lim Seong-geun, currently a senior judge at the Busan High Court, marks the first-ever impeachment bill passed against a sitting justice in the country.

The assembly led by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) voted 179 to 102 in favor of impeaching Lim, with three abstentions and four spoiled votes, clearing the way for the motion to go to the Constitutional Court for a final decision.

No judge has been impeached in South Korea before. Two motions of impeachment against Supreme Court judges were proposed in 1985 and 2009, but they were voted down or scrapped at the legislature.

National Assembly Speaker Rep. Park Byeong-seug puts an impeachment motion against judge Lim Seong-geun to a vote on Feb. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

National Assembly Speaker Rep. Park Byeong-seug puts an impeachment motion against judge Lim Seong-geun to a vote on Feb. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

Lim was indicted in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of other judges' exercising of rights, for allegedly meddling in several trials between 2015 and 2016, while he was serving at the Seoul Central District Court.

He was accused of exerting his authority as a senior judge to step in and influence a libel case filed by the former government against a Japanese journalist in 2015. The Seoul-based journalist published a column questioning then President Park Geun-hye's whereabouts at the moment of the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol the previous year.

In February last year, a Seoul court acquitted Lim of the power abuse and other charges but still acknowledged his "unconstitutional act" of meddling in trials.

Lim is one of scores of justices implicated in a broader judicial power abuse scandal surrounding Yang Sung-tae who served as the chief justice of the Supreme Court under ousted former President Park Geun-hye. Yang is currently facing a trial on charges of unfairly influencing politically sensitive trials and oppressing progressive judges.

The DP has taken it as the National Assembly's duty to punish Lim for his "unconstitutional infringement on other judges' independence," but the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) vehemently denounced the motion as the ruling party's attempt to "tame" the judiciary.

The latest parliamentary passage of the motion now leaves it up to the Constitutional Court to determine the fate of Lim.

Later in the day, the Constitutional Court accepted the impeachment resolution and the full bench of the court will begin to review the case.

But many expect the court will be unable to deliver its decision before Feb. 28 when Lim is scheduled to retire as a judge. The court could dismiss the case as ineligible for deliberation if Lim's retirement comes before it makes a final ruling, according to legal experts.

This image shows Lim Seong-geun. (Yonhap)

This image shows Lim Seong-geun. (Yonhap)

Stepping up the ante against the DP, the PPP threatened to propose its own motion to impeach Chief Supreme Court Justice Kim Meong-su, who allegedly rejected Lim's offer to resign in May last year for a political reason, and urged him to step down.

According to a recording of Kim's remarks when Lim visited him to express his intention to resign at that time, which was disclosed by Lim's lawyer on Thursday, Kim said he could face a backlash from lawmakers if he lets him go while his parliamentary impeachment is being pursued.

Kim initially denied making the comments but apologized for giving a false account of the incident based on his uncertain memory after the recording was disclosed.

"Whatever reason it was, I apologize deeply to Lim and those who have been disappointed," Kim told reporters.

PPP spokesman Rep. Bae June-young said Kim lost his qualification as the leader of judges.

"If a modicum of conscience is left as a justice, he should decide his own fate," he added.

Lim's side also lamented the passage of the impeachment motion as "highly incomprehensible and regrettable."

Chief Supreme Court Justice Kim Meong-su is on his way to work on Feb. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

Chief Supreme Court Justice Kim Meong-su is on his way to work on Feb. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)


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