SINGAPORE: An attorney was suspended on Wednesday (August 7th) for suspending abuse of over $ 138,000 entrusted to him by a client.
Mr Ooi Oon Tat of the Law Firm of Judy Cheng & Co (JCC) was handed the penalty by the Court of Three Judges after failing to make a written statement for himself.
According to court documents, he had taken over Mr Kuntjoro Wibawa as his client from another lawyer and had to be paid $ 138,188 to resolve his legal issues.
However, instead of directing the money to be deposited into his client's account, he told Mr Kuntjoro to deposit the money into JCC's office account, which he made in February 2016.
To date, Mr. Kuntjoro has not received a full restitution of the money and has suffered losses of about $ 105,000.
A disciplinary court found in October last year that Mr Ooi had violated Rule 3 (1) of the Rules of Legal Profession (Attorney Accounts). He had to deposit the money into his client's account without delay, but he didn't.
Mr Ooi, who has been a lawyer for 30 years, did not make any concluding statement before the disciplinary court, although he was ordered to do so.
The tribunal found that it wanted the funds to be in the JCC's office for its own convenience, and withdrew a total of 40,000 S from it.
Mr Ooi on Wednesday repeated in the Supreme Court the same arguments he had made orally before the tribunal – that his client did not pay him and that he was entitled to $ 70,000 in fees.
The law firm, represented by Ms. Mimi O, called on Appellate Judge Andrew Fang and Judyx WuBi Lee and Quentin Loch to strike Mr. Ooye from the cast.
JUDGES MORE PROMPT Mr OOI
Justice Fang has repeatedly questioned Mr Ooi as to why he did not bother filing his own hearing, given that he could be hit by the cast.
Mr Ooi said he had "gone through a difficult time" and felt "quite hurt" because he had "gone very far" for the client.
"You have not sent any affidavits," Justice said. "Is there any reason? You didn't bother to record anything."
"I feel upset," Mr. Ooi repeated.
"Is that the reason you are not filing cases? You are a lawyer. You can impersonate, be legally trained and still have not followed the procedures," Justice told Justice.
Mr Ooi said he had forgotten to pay his client $ 70,000 and had examples of the work he had done for him.
"Does all this justify putting the funds in your office account for your convenience?" Justice Fang questioned.
When Mr Ooi said he was entitled to S $ 70,000, the judge said: "What you are entitled to is beyond the point. If you have to pay the money into the client account, you cannot pay it into the office account. "
He urged Mr Ooi to go to court for sanctions as the Law Society demanded that he be hit by the cast.
"I definitely disagree," Mr Ooi said. "That, I would say, is too drastic given the background. I would leave it to (the court). I would just say that it should not be noticed in any way."
When asked by the judge if he even knew what the possible sanctions were, Mr Ooi said he was "quite sad" about all the work and therefore did not "do much".
"You mean you don't know what the sanctions are?" asked Justice Fang. "It only takes you five minutes to find out."
"It's just that kind of feeling," said Mr. Ooi. "Even though I play for myself, my career is at risk."
He admitted that he was "angry about the matter" and was not proud of it.
Justice Fang said there should be three types of sanctions – fines, suspension and speeding up.
He would have been rejected if dishonesty had been proven, the judge said, but that was not the case, although "there was some element of fraud."
WINES FOR GROUP IMPROPER RECEIPT
The judge reiterated how critical and mandatory it is that all attorneys comply with the rules so that the public is protected from misappropriation of clients 'attorneys' money.
He said Mr Ooi was guilty of "gross misconduct" and the fine was not appropriate in this case as he had invested the funds in his account for his own convenience, failed to advise his client properly or to give a proper account for it.
The amount involved was also quite substantial, the judge said, and although no dishonesty was found, there was "at least, gross negligence."
Mr Ooi had been a practitioner "for many years" and needed to know how important compliance was, Justice said.
"He (he) did not show any grief before us," he added.
Orders Mr Ooi to pay the costs of the proceedings on behalf of the law firm of approximately $ 12,000.
The judges urged Mr Ooi, asking him if he needed time to settle his other clients' cases, and Mr Ooi successfully requested a month before the suspension would take effect.
Following the hearing, Mr Kuntjoro, who was diagnosed with cancer at the time the money was deposited, told the media that the sanction had "no deterrent effect on lawyers".
"He wasn't doing his job," the man said. "Can be repeated with other customers."
He had originally hired Mr Ooi to handle a case of co-payment by another lawyer in his father's estate case. The $ 1.2 million bill was eventually reduced to $ 100,000 following an appeal by another lawyer who took over from Mr. Ooi.
According to Mr Kuntjoro's personal assistant, a police record of Mr Ooi's conduct was drawn up and police investigations continue.