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Former top court justice named new Supreme Court chief

Former Supreme Court Justice Yang Seung-tae was named the new chief justice of the Supreme Court on Thursday, the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae said.

Yang, 63, had been a justice at the top court from 2005 to February 2011. His term as the chief justice will also run six years. If approved, Yang will replace the incumbent Lee Yong-hoon, whose term is set to end next month.

"Yang is a veteran justice who has served in courts for 36 years," said Kim Du-woo, senior presidential spokesman.

"As a Supreme Court justice, he has built solid relationships with people around him and has earned a great deal of respect from his peers for his fair and reasonable approach."

Kim also said Yang has maintained "consistency" with his rulings during his more than three decades on the bench.

"He is a stable figure that can preserve free democracy but is a reform-minded man who can develop our judicial branch in accordance with the demands of time," the spokesman said.

Kim said Yang helped ensure fair elections while serving as head of the National Election Commission from 2009 to 2011.   

Sources said Yang had been in the running against Mok Young-joon, a justice at the Constitutional Court, and Park Ill-hoan, a Supreme Court justice.

Yang, 63, graduated from Seoul National University's law school in 1970 and passed the national bar exam in the same year.  

Following a mandatory two-year course at the Judicial Research and Training Center, he joined the judicial branch in 1972 and went on to spend most of his career as a judge at district courts until being appointed to head the Patent Court in 2003.

After ending his term as a Supreme Court justice in February this year, Yang didn't join a law firm or open his own firm, instead traveling to the Himalayas and the Rockies before coming home recently. This led to speculation that he would turn down the chief justice position if offered. (Yonhap News)