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[Editorial] True colors of chief justice

Kim lies about rejecting judge’s resignation for fear of precluding impeachment

Kim Myeong-su, chief justice of the Supreme Court, faces criticism for lying about his remarks that exposed his lack of will to protect the independence of the judiciary.

Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge at the Busan High Court, revealed Wednesday that on May 22 last year when he visited Kim to ask him to accept his resignation that he had offered for a health reason, Kim told him that if he accepts his resignation, the National Assembly would not be able to act to impeach him. Kim mentioned the National Assembly, but in fact he meant the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, with its absolute majority.

Kim denied the related news report immediately, telling some media and the National Assembly that he had never said anything like that.

But his denial quickly turned out to be an outright lie, as Lim disclosed part of the dialogue that he had secretly recorded. Kim apologized, though briefly.

During the interview, Kim said to Lim, “The ruling party is moving to impeach (you), so if I accept your resignation, what will they say to me in the National Assembly?”

It is hard to believe this came from the mouth of the top justice, whom judges expect to protect them from external pressure. It is as if Kim offered up a judge as a sacrifice to the ruling party for him to avoid being criticized. His remarks reveal the lack of will to protect the political independence of the judiciary.

In his inaugural address in 2017 after being appointed by President Moon Jae-in, Kim vowed to protect judges with all his might from any attempt to violate their independence. That was wholly empty talk.

Lim was indicted in March 2019 for exerting his influence in 2016 on a libel suit filed by the government against a Japanese journalist who questioned then-President Park Geun-hye’s whereabouts during the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster. Lim was suspected of pressuring the judge trying the libel suit to state in the sentencing that a column by Tatsuya Kato of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun was groundless. Kato was found not guilty. Lim was acquitted in the first trial.

The first-trial ruling on Lim notes unconstitutional behavior, but ruled it was just a suggestion or advice, and there was no infringement on the jurisdiction of the judge who tried the libel suit. And yet the ruling party pushed through a motion to impeach him anyway.

Judges criticized Kim on their exclusive internet message board. A post reads, “How could you not remember what you said in an interview that a judge requested to resign in a desperate situation? If we do not record our dialogue with the head of our organization from now on, we will face the risk of being branded liars. Like many defendants do, you tell the truth only when clear evidence is presented.”

Kim even sent the National Assembly an official Supreme Court document denying Lim’s revelation. It is effectively perjury.

Lim rebutted Kim’s denial, but Kim ignored his rebuttal until he made his recordings public. Had Lim not disclosed the recording and its transcript, he would be stigmatized as a liar.

A judge is supposed to tell truths from falsehoods. Then none other than the chief justice of the Supreme Court lied. He admitted to saying what was recorded, saying, “Sorry for having answered contrary.” After, he has kept silent. It is questionable if he feels shame sincerely about his remarks and lies.

The Supreme Court saved two Democratic Party members, Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Seongnam Mayor Eun Soo-mi, from the crisis of losing their offices by overturning a lower court‘s convictions.

Kim reshuffled the court Wednesday. A senior judge trying cases involving former Justice Minister Cho Kuk and several others close to Moon remained, though it is customary to transfer judges to other districts after serving in the same district for two years. The opposition party has criticized the judge for proceeding with the cases favorably for the ruling party.

Moon may have appointed Kim as chief justice because he was deemed suitable for some purposes. It is being revealed that one of the purposes is to protect figures close to the president when related cases reach the Supreme Court. Kim may know well what is expected of him.

His remarks to Lim and his lie indicate that the independence of the judiciary is less important to him than repaying the favor of the ruling party and Cheong Wa Dae that made him chief justice of the Supreme Court. He showed his true colors.