The Court of Three Judges – the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers, which has powers to suspend or strike errant lawyers off the rolls – has fined a lawyer who had an affair with his client $10,000 in costs to the Law Society. It also handed him a three month suspension order yesterday (7 Sep). The lawyer, Lee Terk Yang (41), was representing the client, an air stewardess, in a divorce-related matter.
Lee, a married man, admitted to being intimate with his client at a hotel over two days in January 2014. The air stewardess’s boyfriend complained to the Law Society about the lawyer’s improper conduct which then convened a disciplinary tribunal in July last year. Lee pleaded guilty to a charge of grossly improper conduct under the Legal Profession Act before the tribunal.
Lee’s lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam argued that his client’s affair was a short-lived one, and that he told her that he cannot represent her in February 2014, soon after the tryst ended. He also suggested that the woman was not a simple-minded person who Lee took advantage of, and that she was not coerced into the affair.
Adding that Lee did not take any actions that affected the client’s legal interests during their relationship, Mr Thuraisingam argued that a fine would suffice.
Counsel for the Law Society, Mr Ajaib Haridass however said that a fine would not reflect the seriousness of Lee’s misconduct. It would also not protect the reputation of the legal profession and public confidence in it he argued, in pressing for a 6 – 12 months suspension.
Mr Haridass told the three judges – Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Tay Yong Kwang – that Lee “breached his fiduciary duty owed to the client when he advanced his personal interests by engaging in sexual intercourse with the client.”
He suggested that as there is an unequal balance of power in the lawyer-client relationship, it does not matter that the tryst was consensual.
Lee apologised for all that has happened and for the hurt he has caused. “I hope to be given the space to recover,” he said.