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First ever impeachment trial of judge begins

Judge Lim Seong-geun (Yonhap)
Judge Lim Seong-geun (Yonhap)
The nation’s first ever impeachment trial of a judge began Tuesday, as the Constitutional Court held a pretrial hearing for Lim Seong-geun, who stands accused of abusing his judicial power in several politically sensitive court rulings.

The 300-seat National Assembly last month passed a motion tabled by a group of 161 lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party and minor liberal parties to impeach Lim, a sitting judge at the time, making him the first judge in South Korea to face an impeachment trial.

Two motions of impeachment against Supreme Court judges were proposed in 1985 and 2009, but they were voted down or scrapped at the Assembly.

Lim was indicted in 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of other judges’ exercising of rights, for allegedly meddling in trials between 2015 and 2016 while he was a senior judge at the Seoul Central District Court.

Lim, who has been a judge for 30 years since 1991, retired late last month when his term as senior judge at the Busan High Court expired. He did not apply for another term last year.

Representatives of the National Assembly and Lim met Tuesday afternoon to decide on the list of evidence submitted and how to go about the defense.

Pretrial hearings can be held multiple times if necessary.

Lim was accused of pressuring junior judges to specify in a 2015 ruling that a Japanese newspaper correspondent’s claims about former President Park Geun-hye’s whereabouts for seven hours during the Sewol ferry tragedy in 2014 were “groundless.”

A former Seoul bureau chief for Japan’s Sankei Shimbun was indicted in October 2014 for defamation over his column questioning the whereabouts of former President Park for seven hours during the sinking of the Sewol ferry on April 1, 2014, which killed 304 people, mostly high school students.

The reporter was acquitted in December 2015.

Lim also allegedly influenced an illegal overseas gambling case of two professional baseball players and meddled in the sentencing of progressive lawyers arrested for allegedly obstructing police during a SsangYong Motor protest in 2015.

The Seoul Central District Court acquitted Lim in February 2020, but acknowledged that his meddling in trials was an “unconstitutional act.”

By Kim So-hyun (