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[Editorial] A stretch of authority

Cheong Wa Dae was wrong to notify court of petition for dismissal of judge 

Cheong Wa Dae was belatedly found to have conveyed to the Supreme Court a petition from the people that the top court should expel Seoul High Court senior judge Cheong Hyung-sik for suspending a sentence to Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.

Lee was freed on Feb. 5 after an appeals court presided over by Chung gave him a 2 1/2-year suspended jail sentence for corruption in connection with a scandal that toppled former President Park Geun-hye.

Immediately after the ruling, people petitioned Cheong Wa Dae on its website to have Chung inspected and expelled. About 260,000 people joined the petition.

According to internal rules requiring Cheong Wa Dae to respond to a petition signed by more than 200,000 people, the presidential office said in late February, “Cheong Wa Dae cannot and must not be involved in personnel and disciplinary actions regarding sitting judges under the principle of separating the three powers of administration, legislation and judicature.”

Then, Jung Hye-seung, presidential secretary for new media, reportedly called the National Court Administration, a key organ of the Supreme Court, to let it know about the petition.

The legal circle noted that it was a serious act that hurts the principle of the three powers and the rule of law. A petition targeting a certain judge could put pressure on judges, if delivered to the judicature through Cheong Wa Dae.

No wonder judges expressed worries about the violation of jurisdiction on their internal online bulletin.

It was wrong from the beginning for the presidential office to have taken into account a petition that demands the expulsion of a particular judge. Demands that a judge be fired over his or her ruling run counter to the Constitution, which guarantees the status of judges.

If Cheong Wa Dae notifies the court administration that more than 200,000 people petitioned for the dismissal of a certain judge, the judge cannot but feel threatened. Moreover, the president has authority to appoint the Supreme Court chief justice and justices. Therefore, Cheong Wa Dae was wrong to have notified the Supreme Court of the petition.

People can agree or disagree with a judge’s ruling. They can criticize it, but their collective move to fire a judge they disagree with is an act of violence in the manner of the court of public opinion.

Highlighting that people have the freedom to criticize the judiciary, Cheong Wa Dae adheres to its policy to keep receiving petitions against court rulings.

The Korean Bar Association issued a statement Friday, arguing that the notification could violate the independence of courts and urging Cheong Wa Dae to prevent the recurrence of the incident.

The Supreme Court must not look on with folded arms but should raise issues with Cheong Wa Dae. It is time for Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su to express his firm position on this.

Incidents like this can happen frequently under the current administration, which prefers methods for direct democracy, such as online petitions and social media communication.

The problem is that supporters of the current administration often raise their voices collectively against anything they disagree with, and package their argument as national opinion.

Cheong Wa Dae must separate sound public opinion from political violence disguised as public opinion.

The presidential office needs to take this opportunity to mend its petition system.

Before everything else, it must prevent the possibility of violating the principle of three powers. To do so, it has to limit petitions to issues related to the executive branch of power.

Preposterous petitions, such as one demanding the introduction of “comfort women” in the military, must be crossed out. Cheong Wa Dae must also install a system to prevent internet ID rigging.

Above all, Cheong Wa Dae must keep in mind that if it tries to meddle in the affairs of other branches of power, it cannot avoid criticism that it is an imperial presidency.