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Korean Bar Association approves licensing of ex-judge convicted of sex offense

Spycam convict, son of opposition lawmaker, to regain license to practice law

The Korean Bar Association said Tuesday its law license review board ruled in favor of a former judge who was convicted for secretly photographing a woman on the subway.

The screening committee meeting accepted Hong’s application to be licensed as an attorney by a decision of 7-2, citing that the Attorneys-at-Law Act that does not disqualify a candidate with a criminal conviction if the punishment is less serious than imprisonment.

Korean Bar Association (Yonhap)
Korean Bar Association (Yonhap)

On July 18, 2017, the former judge, known only by his surname Hong, was booked on charges of violating the Act on the Punishment of Sexual Crimes after he was caught on a Seoul subway car sneaking shots of a woman with his mobile phone. Hong was arrested at the scene when fellow passengers reported the incident to police.

Hong initially denied the charge during police examination, but photographs of the victim’s legs were found on his phone and the court ordered a fine of 3 million won ($2,700). Later in the same year, the Supreme Court docked four months of his pay for injury to dignity.

Hong, who held a post at a Seoul district court’s justice department for sexual assault at the time of the incident, had been appointed as a judge in March 2016.

The controversy amplified when the convicted judge was identified as the son of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party Rep. Hong Il-pyo, who also came under fire following reports of his son’s indictment. Before he was elected to public office as deputy mayor of Incheon in 2007, Rep. Hong served as a judge for 14 years from 1985 to 1999.

Regarding the Korean Bar Association’s decision to license an attorney with high-profile conviction, its communications director Song Hae-yeon told The Korea Herald on Wednesday that “while there are ethical considerations, sex crimes differ in their gravity, and a 3 million-won fine is considered relatively inconsequential.”

Asked about public opinion that eligibility standards for the Korean Bar Association membership should be tightened, Song said there are voices within the association that echo the sentiment.

“It’s not like the KBA has taken a survey, but opinions shared off the record have been split on accepting (Hong’s) application,” he said.

By Kim Arin (