After a legal career that began as an undergraduate at Seoul National University, Park Byoung-dae, LL.M. ’91, has been appointed to a six-year term as a justice on the Supreme Court of South Korea. Only thirteen seats on the Supreme Court are recognized as the most honorable and respected positions for every lawyer in the country.
A report issued by the National Assembly of South Korea offered this description: “Considering Mr. Justice Park has the courage and competence to perform such an important responsibility… and very strong confidence to defend the independence of the judiciary branch and protect social minorities, he is very eligible to be appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Born in 1957, he grew up on a farm outside Yeongju, about one hundred miles southeast of Seoul. He graduated from Seoul National University with an LL.B. in 1980, and completed his coursework at the Judicial Research and Training Institute, where he later taught as a member of its faculty. Park was appointed to a judgeship on the Seoul Civil District Court in 1985, and following his fifth year on the bench, he decided to enter the master’s program at Cornell Law considering the Supreme Court’s recommendation.
He arrived during a period of widespread change, including a pro-democracy movement, in South Korea. When he returned to Seoul in 1991, he took a leading role in reforming the legal system. “After coming back, I had many opportunities to participate in the ensuing judicial reforms that were taking place,” says Justice Park, who credits the Law School for his understanding of case law.
“The current legal system in South Korea is based on a so-called ‘Compound System,’ which many experts have assessed as an unusually successful establishment,” he says. “However, the Korean bar has been always open-minded to absorb legal achievements from other countries. The inspirations instilled from Cornell had invoked many new ideas from within me. At Cornell, I was able to experience firsthand how human rights can be realized in the lives of individuals, as a universal right of mankind.”
“My initial understanding was that the civil law system was superior in clarity and predictability while the common law system had greater flexibility and adaptability on the unique situations of each individual case. It was only after studying at Cornell that I was actually able to grasp how the common law system functioned practically,” he adds.
And, “for example, the flexibility in dealing with the remedies to the infringement of rights or defining the amounts of damages on a case-by-case basis were inspiring experiences which spurred greater openness in my way of thinking. Perusal of the years of accumulated judicial precedents on Freedom of Speech gave me a chance to ponder how the plaza of thought under the system of liberalism and democracy should be established,” he explains.
Higher posts followed. He served as a judge on the Seoul High Court before becoming president on the Daejeon District Court, earning a reputation as a progressive for his work in mapping out a new model for civil procedure, providing assistance to defendants representing themselves in court, introducing citizen participation in criminal trials, strengthening copyright laws, and facilitating alternative dispute resolutions.
In one groundbreaking decision, he declared invalid exclusive management agreements between popular performers in the Asian region and the most influential entertainment company in South Korea. He ruled that the agreement excessively infringed on individuals’ rights, and was thus unfair. As a result, a model entertainment management agreement reflecting his decision was created and widely adopted by the entertainment industry. In another case, he ruled to reinstate a journalist and a president of a public institution who had lost their jobs for criticizing the government. And, he established the scope and limit of online open marketplace companies’ legal liabilities to brand manufacturers and consumers arising from frequent sales of fake products.
He also has a solid reputation as a scholar in the field of jurisprudence. In 2005, he received ‘The Year’s Legal Thesis Award’ given by the Korea Legal Center for his legal research on ‘The Structure Analysis of Decision Standards on Performance Based on Illegal Cause.’ This award has been recognized as the most honorable award for Korean lawyers since it is given to only two researchers from the entire Korean bar on an annual basis.
At the Law School, John J. Barceló, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of International and Comparative Law and Elizabeth and Arthur Reich Director of the Leo and Arvilla Berger International Legal Studies Program, led him through a series of case studies on international transactions, and “for a student like me, coming from Korea, a nation jumping up to the economic springboard, these lectures were very helpful in organizing my thoughts regarding a lawyer’s role in this global society.”
From his time in Ithaca, he retains fond memories of the wooded path around Beebe Lake, the ivy climbing up the façade of Myron Taylor Hall, the pleasures of Stewart Park, and the view from Cayuga Medical Center, where his second daughter was born. “These scenes remain so vividly in my mind as if I had seen them only yesterday,” he says. “These are all places of joy and happiness to me, which overlap when I think of Cornell and Ithaca.
“At Cornell, I watched how people with truly diverse origins and thoughts can achieve harmony and establish commonality,” he continues. “The warmth and kindness that I received from people in Ithaca are still with me every day. Deep in this jurist’s heart, the values summed up by ‘Lawyers in the Best Sense’ truly makes sense.”