WUHAN - A judge and a tribunal chairman of a local court in East China's Shandong province were penalized on Thursday for extorting money in the name of a "case operation fees" from litigants in 2008.
Chen Bentao, a presiding judge at the Fangzi District People's Court in Weifang, was given a demerit and his colleague, Zhao Shiguo, got an admonishment after they were videotaped asking for 19,000 yuan ($2,782) from a trade company in Central China's Hubei province.
Huang Liangdong, vice-president of the court, also received an admonishment in the case, which is still under investigation by the local disciplinary body.
In April 2008, Huang Zhihong, representative of Wuhan Jingxinyuan Trade Ltd Co, moved the Fangzi District Court against Qingdao Runtai Company over an unpaid loan of 700,000 yuan.
Later, Chen, who was judging the case and Zhao Shiguo, the tribunal chairman, asked Huang to pay 19,000 yuan as "case operation charges".
Chen Qin, the lawyer for the trade company, had to pay the money in order to get the case moving.
Huang said charging money to hear a case is illegal according to the law, but they paid the money and recorded the process as evidence for the future.
On April 26, 2010, Chen Bentao received the recorded footage and a letter asking him to return the money besides a mental damage compensation of 50,000 yuan.
Chen Qin and Huang agreed to negotiate the compensation on May 6, which Huang again secretly taped through his cell phone camera.
The video shows Huang Liangdong, vice-president of the court, and other staff apologizing and promising to return the money.
About 22,000 yuan was sent to the company's account on May 7, Huang confirmed.
Due to the conflict on the mental damage compensation, Huang and Chen Qin decided to turn to the media for help and they sent the two videos to Wuhan Morning News, which ran the story on Thursday.
Chen Bentao and the other accused were unavailable for comment.
Huang said this was not the first time that he had heard of "case operation fees".
Zhou Ze, a lawyer and professor with the China Youth College for Political Sciences, said it was illegal to charge case operation fees privately, which equals blackmail.
"If the court staff do not receive salaries or subsidies on time, some of them may use their position to grab money," Zhou said.
The central government allocated nearly 9.5 billion yuan to support the work of the judicial system in poor regions in 2008.