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Court stands firm on Feb. 27 final hearing

The Constitutional Court reconfirmed Friday that the final hearing for President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment trial will be held Monday as previously scheduled, regardless of the replacement of an outgoing justice, dismissing Park’s calls for a delay in the last hearing.

“The final session will be held on Feb. 27. This decision was already made by all the eight justices,” an official from the court said during a briefing, hinting that the hearing will not be put off even in the case of a boycott by Park’s lawyers or the president's appearance at the court.

The confirmation comes after Park’s lawyers again asked the court to bring in more witnesses and said they would object to the closure of the trial, citing the Supreme Court’s decision to appoint a successor for outgoing acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi.

Park’s lawyers have argued that the court should not rush to a verdict due to the departure of Justice Lee, addressing the need to appoint her successor to guarantee defense rights for the president. 

The Constitutional Court‘s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi enters the court building Friday under the protection of police officers. The court requested earlier this week for close personal security of all its current justices, in response to escalating anti-impeachment protests. (Yonhap)
The Constitutional Court‘s acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi enters the court building Friday under the protection of police officers. The court requested earlier this week for close personal security of all its current justices, in response to escalating anti-impeachment protests. (Yonhap)

The Supreme Court said that it will appoint the replacement for Lee, whose term ends on March 13, to avert an additional vacancy in the originally nine-judge court. It now has eight judges following the departure of former Chief Justice Park Han-chul on Jan. 31.

“The court has no intention of influencing or disrupting the ongoing impeachment trial,” the court said in a statement. It added it will only announce its pick for the successor to Lee after the trial’s final hearing ends.

All nine justices of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the president, but three are recommended by the Supreme Court‘s chief justice and another three by the parliament. That means that the replacement is possible with Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae recommending one and acting President Hwang Kyo-an approving it.

The Constitutional Court has accelerated the proceedings to prevent the worst scenario -- seven justices, the minimum required to make a ruling, decide whether to unseat or reinstate the president. The ruling to confirm the impeachment of Park needs approval from at least six justices.

President Park has appeared to be trying to prolong court proceedings by asking for more witnesses to be summoned and even criticizing the court for being “biased,” which critics sees as an attempt to raise the chances of her avoiding removal from office. With the acting Chief Justice’s departure, Park would needs only two justices to side with her to regain her legitimacy as president.

The court already rescheduled the final hearing from Feb. 24 to Monday, after Park’s lawyers requested the final hearing be postponed.

There is an overwhelming expectation that the verdict on President Park’s fate will be made on March 10 or 13, before acting Chief Justice Lee’s term ends, as it typically takes about two weeks for the bench to write up a ruling after the final hearing.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)
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