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Impeachment motion proposed against senior judge accused of judicial power abuse

This image shows Lim Seong-geun, currently a senior judge at Busan High Court. (Yonhap)
This image shows Lim Seong-geun, currently a senior judge at Busan High Court. (Yonhap)
A group of lawmakers led by the ruling Democratic Party (DP) proposed a motion Monday to impeach a senior judge accused of abusing judicial power in several politically sensitive court rulings.

The motion filed by DP Rep. Lee Tah-ney seeks to impeach Lim Seong-geun, currently a senior judge at Busan High Court, for his alleged meddling in several politically controversial trials between 2015 and 2016 while he was serving at the Seoul Central District Court.

Some 160 lawmakers, mostly from the DP, joined the motion, easily reaching the quorum of at least one-third of the 300 sitting National Assembly members. The proponents included DP Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon and floor leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon.

"I will go all the way to establish the constitutional order so that unconstitutional judges who illegally meddled in rulings are dispelled and any such person will never set foot in the community of public workers," Rep. Lee Tah-ney said during a news conference held before the proposal.

No judge has been impeached in South Korea before. Two motions of impeachment against Supreme Court judges were proposed in 1985 and 2009, but they were voted down or scrapped at the National Assembly.

The parliament is expected to table the motion in a plenary session Tuesday and put it to a vote Thursday.

By law, an impeachment motion is required to be presented at the following parliamentary plenary session after its formal proposal. Once the motion is tabled, the National Assembly will be required to put it to a vote within 72 hours.

Consent from at least 151 of the 300 sitting lawmakers can pass the bill through parliament. The bill then will land on the table of the Constitutional Court for its final decision.

The DP currently commands a majority of the chamber with 174 seats.

Lim was indicted on charges of exerting his influence as a senior judge in 2015 on a libel suit filed by the government against a Japanese journalist who questioned then President Park Geun-hye's whereabouts at the moment of the deadly sinking of the ferry Sewol the previous year.

Lim allegedly pressured the judge in charge of the case to proclaim, far ahead of the final ruling, that the report by the Japanese journalist -- Tatsuya Kato of Sankei Shimbun -- was fraudulent and to reprimand him in the verdict. Kato was found not guilty in the end.

In February last year, a Seoul court acquitted Lim of power abuse charges but acknowledged his "unconstitutional act" of meddling in a trial.

Lim also allegedly asked a judge to rewrite a sentencing statement on left-leaning lawyers charged with illegal demonstrations and stepped in to mitigate penalties on two professional baseball players involved in illegal overseas gambling.

Lim was one of scores of justices either prosecuted or disciplined for unfairly influencing sensitive trials and oppressing progressive judges under the previous Park Geun-hye administration.

Last week, DP chief Lee threw his support behind the motion, writing on his Facebook page that "if the National Assembly overlooks a judge's unconstitutional behavior and dismisses a call for impeachment, it would be a dereliction of its duties."

The motion's parliamentary process, however, is likely to cast a pall over the National Assembly as it kicked off a monthlong extraordinary session Monday.

The main opposition People Power Party lashed out at the motion as "the mega-sized ruling party's attempt to tame the judiciary." (Yonhap)