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Japan high court judge faces impeachment for 'inappropriate' tweets

Kiichi Okaguchi, a judge of the Sendai High Court. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A parliamentary committee decided Wednesday to refer a high court judge to an impeachment court for posting inappropriate messages on social media that were offensive to parties in two separate trials in 2017 and 2018.

    The decision makes Kiichi Okaguchi, 55, of the Sendai High Court, the ninth judge ever to be referred to the Judge Impeachment Court in Japan. Seven judges have been dismissed by the court to date.

    While the parliamentary committee for the prosecution of judges has not disclosed the reason for its decision, it is believed to have found grounds for dismissal based on a series of posts that constituted misconduct for a judge.

    In 2017, Okaguchi posted on his personal Twitter account about the murder of a high school girl in Tokyo, saying, "A man who has a propensity to be sexually aroused by watching a woman being strangled and agonized. A 17-year-old woman who was mercilessly murdered by such a man."

    Almost two years after the tweet, he posted on Facebook that "the bereaved family has been brainwashed by the Tokyo High Court office to criticize me."

    In 2018, Okaguchi came under fire again when he tweeted about a civil suit concerning dog ownership, in which he apparently blamed the original pet owner.

    The relevant parties in the two cases requested that Okaguchi be dismissed, with other similar requests made after he criticized a bill that would extend the retirement age of prosecutors on a radio program.

    A lawyer for Okaguchi said the parliamentary committee's decision "is extremely regrettable" and that "it is a serious threat to the independence, human rights and freedom of expression of judges."

    The committee questioned Okaguchi on two occasions while investigating the complaints.

    The Supreme Court has twice taken disciplinary action against Okaguchi, once in 2018 and again last year, saying that he had "undermined the public's trust in judges."

    Okaguchi, who was appointed as a judge in 1994, served at the Mito District Court, Osaka High Court, and Tokyo High Court before joining the Sendai High Court in April 2019.

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