South Korea on Thursday impeached a sitting judge for the first time in its history, as lawmakers voted to remove Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge at the Busan High Court for meddling in a number of politically controversial trials during the Park Geun-hye administration.
During the extraordinary session of the National Assembly, 179 lawmakers voted to impeach Lim while 102 voted against it, marking the first time a judge has been removed from the post while in service.
There were two motions in 1985 and 2009 to impeach incumbent judges, but neither earned enough votes to be approved.
The latest motion was put to a vote after a group of 161 lawmakers from the ruling party and minor liberal parties filed a motion under the lead of Democratic Party Rep. Lee Tahney. The motion also won support from Democratic Party of Korea Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon and Floor Leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon.
“We have to carry out the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly that has been pushed back in the past for political reasons,” Rep. Lee Tahney said ahead of voting the impeachment motion.
“It is important that South Korea’s constitutional order works as planned even when everything seems loud under political debate.”
It was expected that the motion would pass as the ruling party controls 174 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. A motion for an impeachment requires at least 151 votes.
But as Lim’s term as a senior judge is set to expire in late February, the impeachment may fail to gain official confirmation from the Constitutional Court before Lim retires.
Lim offered to resign in May last year for health reasons, but the request was rejected by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su, who apologized Thursday for making an erroneous claim in regards to Lim’s impeachment.
In a statement to reporters Thursday, Kim acknowledged that he had considered politicians’ plans to impeach Lim when refusing to accept his resignation in May.
“I apologize for responding falsely based on uncertain memories of nine months earlier,” he said in the statement.
“From what I recall based on the recording files unveiled to the press, I believe I did say what was recorded based on my belief that it is not appropriate to accept a resignation outside the regular personnel appointment period.”
The apology came hours after Lim’s legal counsel revealed a recording and transcript of the conversation between Lim and Kim in May, following the Busan court judge’s offer to resign for health reasons.
Kim said in the recording that he would face backlash from the National Assembly if he approved Lim’s resignation, as lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea were proposing to impeach Lim.
The Supreme Court justice previously denied having ever mentioned impeachment, adding that he had offered to send Lim on sick leave and discuss resignation later on depending on whether Lim’s health improved.
After the recording was revealed, the main opposition People Power Party began discussing a motion to impeach Kim. He has disgraced one of the core values of being a judge, the party said.
The party also urged Kim to resign voluntarily, saying he had blatantly damaged the independence of the judicial branch by being swayed by political influence.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org