[Newsmaker] Judges call for prosecutorial probe over ex-Supreme Court chief

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Jun 3, 2018 - 17:06
  • Updated : Jun 3, 2018 - 18:05

The Supreme Court is embroiled in a swirling controversy after an investigation panel revealed that the judiciary under former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae had used politically sensitive trials to make a deal with the presidential office in return for support for establishing a new appellate court.

The ever-widening scandal has sparked unprecedented calls from judges to conduct prosecutorial probes into the judicial bodies. Judges in Uijeongbu District Court in Gyeonggi Province held a discussion on Friday to demand an internal probe. On Monday, 110 head judges and 80 single judges in Seoul Central District Court will hold several similar discussions, while other regional courts are also expected to follow suit. The national judicial council meeting is also scheduled on June 11. 

Yang Sung-tae (Yonhap)

A special inquiry panel under the Supreme Court announced on May 25 that it had found some 410 documents revealing that the National Court Administration under the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang had secretly made deals with the presidential office to “prevent unpredictable ruling” on politically sensitive cases.

Yang, however, denied all the allegations on Friday, saying such actions are “unimaginable,” as he upheld the principle of independent trials as a “golden rule” for 45 years as a judge.

“Trials are not subject to bargaining, and it is unimaginable to use them for a deal,” he told reporters.

The clash is likely to continue as Yang made it clear he will not attend to questionings by the Supreme Court’s investigation team, while current Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Meong-su expressed deep regret and his determinations to confront the case head on.

Allegations against Yang was first raised early last year, as NCA was suspected to have conducted secret inspections into judges who were deemed critical of Yang’s office. A fact-finding mission and an additional investigation team were launched last year to look into alleged meddling of state affairs and creation of blacklist of judges by Yang. The launch of the special investigation panel in February this year was the third of its kind.

Born in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province in 1948, Yang graduated from Seoul National University in 1970 and passed the bar exam to start his service at the Seoul District Court in 1975.

After holding various posts in regional district courts, and heading the National Election Commission, Yang was appointed the Supreme Court Chief Justice in 2011 and served during two consecutive conservative administrations of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, before retiring on Sept. 24, 2017.

The trials in which Yang is suspected to have unfairly wielded influence after sharing information with presidential office include the case of layoffs of temporary female workers on KTX high-speed train, which was first filed in 2008. While the first and second courts ruled in favor of the temporary workers, the top court quashed the ruling in 2015. According to the findings by the investigation team, Yang exerted his influence on the result.

The top court also appears to have overturned a ruling to satisfy the conservative government in 2013, in a case where a labor union demanded a raise in their ordinary wage. A document created by NCA under Yang’s office contained information that Cheong Wa Dae was satisfied with the top court’s ruling overturning the lower court’s decision in favor of the union.

Yang is also accused of interacting with the presidential office on the trial of former state spy agency chief Won Sei-hoon, who is behind bars for using National Intelligence Service funds to meddle in the 2012 presidential election by running teams to post online politically biased comments. In 2015, the Supreme Court sent Won’s case back for retrial after he was sentenced to a jail term by lower courts.

By Jo He-rim (