[Editorial] A cautionary tale

By Korea Herald

Judges should avoid favoritism

  • Published : Mar 31, 2014 - 20:37
  • Updated : Mar 31, 2014 - 20:37
The resignation of a senior judge in the southern city of Gwangju over the “emperor’s labor” scandal offers a valuable lesson for his juniors: Judges should behave ethically and endeavor to hand down rulings that make sense to the public. Otherwise, they will pay for it someday.

Chang Byong-woo, chief of the Gwangju District Court, offered to resign Saturday, taking responsibility for the recent uproar triggered by an outrageous decision he made four years ago.

In a letter to the press, he apologized for the ruling, which allowed former Daeju Group chairman Huh Jae-ho to pay a 25.4 billion won fine with a mere 50 days of undemanding labor at a prison workhouse.

In the controversial decision, the judge valued the convicted tycoon’s labor at 500 million won a day, an unprecedented rate 5,000 to 10,000 times higher than that applied to ordinary inmates.

The emperor’s labor ruling was recently brought into focus when Huh returned home, after hiding out overseas for four years, to pay off his fines by spending 50 days at a workhouse.

It was only natural that the public bombarded Chang with criticism as his decision was beyond the pale and smacked of favoritism.

The Constitution states that judges should rule “independently according to their conscience” and in conformity with the Constitution and the relevant law.

In the case of the emperor’s labor ruling, it is highly doubtful that Chang ruled according to his conscience. Had he done so, he would have been able to defend himself in the face of public criticism.

Chang is suspected of having had close ties with the Daeju chairman. His resignation came one day after a local media outlet reported on dubious real estate transactions between him and Daeju Group subsidiaries.

He reportedly purchased an apartment built by Daeju Construction in 2005 and sold his former apartment to HH Development two years later. HH Development’s purchase of Chang’s apartment was an unusual deal, given that the company was engaged in leasing commercial buildings.

The national uproar over the emperor’s labor prompted the Supreme Court to come up with a plan to reform the current prison labor system. It should have taken measures earlier to prevent judges from valuing inmates’ labor nonsensically.

The court also said it would reform the current system of allowing judges to spend their entire careers in certain local district courts. This is a wise move, given that stagnant water is bound to grow corrupt.