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September 25, 2017

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Continued 'strife' a result of failings in judicial conduct

There is a legendary Zen Buddhist monk named Budai (布袋), known as Hotei in Japan, where he is worshipped as one of the Seven Gods of Happiness. In China, Budai is often identified as Maitreya Buddha, who has left a famous "Rice Seedlings Transplantation Hymn (插秧偈)," a quatrain the last line of which runs: "To step back originally is to move forward" (退步原來是向前). Budai, incidentally, means a cloth sack for rice. His figurative teaching is: to make concessions is to make gains.

That seven-character line was quoted by Wei Li-chuen, a judge at the Taiwan High Court in urging a settlement out of court of the controversial litigation between the Kuomintang and Wang Jin-pying, president of the Legislative Yuan who, deprived of his membership of the ruling party, would have been kicked out of the parliament but stays on thanks to a temporary injunction granted by the Taipei District Court. The Kuomintang has appealed the temporary injunction and Her Honor Wei is the presiding judge in conference to hear the appeal.

Apparently, Wei doesn't want to hear the case. When she was chosen as the presiding judge, she requested recusal because her husband is a friend of President Ma Ying-jeou, who doubles as chairman of the Kuomintang. Recusal is the act of a judge or prosecutor being removed or excusing himself or herself from a legal case due to a conflict of interest or other reasons. But her request was turned down. So after a delay, she heard the case and called on the litigants to settle their dispute out of court by arranging a compromise the way Budai taught: to concede is to gain for both sides. She ruled that she would announce her rulings on the case this week, if they cannot agree to drop the case.

It's rather unusual for judges to urge settlement out of court, for their job is to pass clear judgment on who is right and who is wrong. But it was wrong on the part of Wei to appear in a TV talk show to talk about the case last Friday.

Wei must have known there is a law, called the Code of Ethics for Judges and Prosecutors, Article 5 of which requires them to refrain from conduct unbecoming to their honor or considered detrimental to their image as law-enforcement officials. For her to talk on SET TV is an act unbecoming of a judge, who is supposed to express judicial opinions only in the judgment he or she passes in a court trial. It is up to the Self-Discipline Committee of the Taiwan High Court to determine if she violated the Code of Ethics. If so determined, she will be referred to the High Court's Committee for Evaluation of Judges for a review. She will be punished if the committee decides her conduct is truly unbecoming of a judge. The severest punishment is dismissal.

Perhaps, Judge Wei knows she won't be punished or will be punished lightly if she can't get off scot-free. But what's the purpose of her talking about the case in public? To win sympathy? She won't be given it. To win fame? She can't. To show she is fair? Judges are supposed to be fair. To immunize her against criticism on the rulings she has to hand down? Maybe, though she will come under fire anyway, however she may rule. The only choice open to her when SET TV requested her presence at Thursday's talk show was to turn it down.

The trouble with our judiciary is that there are too many judges and prosecutors like Her Honor Wei. They have learned laws so thoroughly that they can recite the whole compendium of the laws of the land backwards but don't know what the laws are for. Neither are they dedicated to their professionalism, which is to uphold justice. No wonder there are lots of baby judges, dinosaur judges and blood-thirsty public prosecutors, while increasingly few people have faith in the judiciary.

And it's a real pity that nobody can do anything about it.

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