Kim Byeong-ro, South Korea’s first Supreme Court chief justice, was an independence fighter who raided a Japanese government office in Sunchang, South Jeolla Province after joining a resistance unit led by Kim Dong-shin at the age 20. Later, he became a lawyer “in order to help compatriots who were suffering from the miserable yoke under Japan’s persecution” and defended numerous indicted independence fighters pro bono. After Singanhoe, a united national independence front of which he was one of the leaders, was disbanded and he was restricted in taking ideological cases, he went to a rural village to live in seclusion for 13 years until Korea was liberated from Japan’s colonial rule. While serving as the chief justice for nine years and three months, he resisted all types of pressures and interventions from outside the judiciary to lay the foundation for the independence of judicial powers. After retirement, he fought against dictators.
Some of the most salient characteristics of Kim’s calligraphy are small-sized characters and wide space between the lines. Small characters indicate his extreme meticulousness, discretion, cool-headed self-restraint, attention, caution, modesty, and self-control, while the wide line spaces suggest that he was mindful of causing trouble to others, careful, thoughtful and frugal. He was probably a man who was thoughtful and careful, knew how to control himself, hated to cause trouble to others, and did not show off. His soft and low-pressure brush strokes suggest that he was a man of noble character, mild temper and generous disposition. His regular characters hint that he was logical, consistent and predictable.
The protruding finishes of vowels are indicative of his strong perseverance. He did not mind clashing with then President Rhee Syng-man to protect the judiciary’s independence. After President Rhee forcefully disbanded the National Assembly and arrested lawmakers to solidify his power in 1952, Kim told Supreme Court justices that judicial independence was the only way to prevent a tyrannical ruler from imposing a legislative in the form of legitimate legal act or manipulate its acts as if following the people’s will. To Kim, the independence of the judiciary and court trials was an absolute proposition that he refused to yield an inch on.