Fri, Mar 01, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Integrity is crucial for judicial candidates

By Ernie Ko 葛傳宇

As president, one of Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) most important responsibilities is to make sure that the nation's judiciary is composed of people with the highest integrity and capability. To do anything less would be a disservice to the nation.

Two grand-justice candidates will soon be chosen. Political junkies and news media are speculating on the prospects for various hopefuls closely associated with the DPP and who have doctoral degrees in law. There are only a handful of such people.

While each is impressive academically, some are of questionable character and integrity. At least one has been accused of inappropriate conduct with a female subordinate during the early stages of his public service career. The alleged misconduct involved taking her to rest in a hotel during a short walk after work. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the social implications of a married man inviting a single, female subordinate to spend time with him in a hotel room. The key point is to examine his maturity and his judgement. He would seem to lack the moral qualifications for such a position of responsibility.

Public figures in Taiwan have much less privacy than private citizens. Like it or not, their private lives are subject to public scrutiny at all times. Under the media's microscope sooner or later any minor mistake can become a huge scandal. When it comes to judges, the standard of scrutiny is particularly high and a grand justice is supposed to be a role model for the entire judi-ciary. He cannot afford to face the slightest challenge to his integrity in the form of rumors or speculation, let alone a credible account by an innocent victim.

Under amendments made to the Constitution in 2000, all 15 grand-justice posts will be up for nomination by the president next year. It may be that the Presidential Office is floating a trial balloon by spreading the word that two justices are to be nominated this year.

Thanks to the nation's long history of legal education, however, there is a substantial pool of qualified legal professionals and law professors suitable for the job. A lengthy process of screening their credentials and backgrounds will be needed, but fortunately time is on Chen's side. He need not rush to a decision immediately. Rather, he should appoint a panel of experts and opinion leaders to conduct a thorough and impartial examination of each and every qualified candidate on professional and moral terms. Strict scrutiny of short-listed candidates' private lives will pay off in the long run.

More significantly, the time should allow Chen to exert wise influence over Taiwan's constitutional development.

Consider the US Supreme Court. The first female judge, Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. After 20 years' service on the bench, she is now widely perceived as the tie-breaking member of the nine-member panel. As an American icon, O'Connor not only inspires female law students but also plays a deciding role from time to time in shaping majority opinion in many landmark cases.

Similarly, Chen should follow suit by offering the grand justice posts to competent candidates with clean private lives. History will testify to the ability of the grand justices as well as the quality of the legacy they leave to the people, in whose name the power of nomination is exercised.

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