Lawyer who had affair with client suspended by apex court

Lawyer Lee Terk Yang was suspended for three months by the Court of Three Judges.
Lawyer Lee Terk Yang was suspended for three months by the Court of Three Judges. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A married lawyer, who had an affair with a former air stewardess he was representing in divorce-related matters, was on Wednesday (Sept 7) handed a three-month suspension by the Court of Three Judges.

Mr Lee Terk Yang, 41, a lawyer for 13 years, admitted to having a tryst with the client at a hotel over two days in January 2014.

Her boyfriend complained to the Law Society, which then convened a disciplinary tribunal.

Mr Lee had pleaded guilty to one charge of grossly improper conduct under the Legal Profession Act before the tribunal in July last year. The Law Society then referred the case to 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.

On Wednesday, Mr Ajaib Haridass, counsel for the Law Society, asked for a six to 12 month suspension for Mr Lee. A fine alone would not deter like-minded lawyers, he said.

"(Mr Lee) breached his fiduciary duty owed to the client when he advanced his personal interests by engaging in sexual intercourse with the client."

It did not matter that the affair, which began with exchanges of romantic messages via SMS in December 2013, was consensual, said Mr Haridass. There was, among other things, an unequal balance of power in the lawyer-client relationship.

Mr Haridass added that Mr Lee's punishment had to reflect the seriousness of his misconduct; and protect the reputation of the legal profession and public confidence in it.

Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, counsel for Mr Lee, meanwhile argued that a fine would suffice. Mr Lee did not take any actions that affected the client's legal interests during their short-lived affair. And he told the client that he could no longer act for her in February 2014, albeit after their relationship had ended.

Mr Thuraisingam argued that the client was not a simple-minded woman who was made use of by Mr Lee. She also chose to enter into a relationship with the lawyer.

The three judges - Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, and Judges of Appeal Judith Prakash and Tay Yong Kwang - ordered that Mr Lee pay $10,000 in costs to the Law Society. His suspension starts next month.

After the hearing, Mr Lee told reporters: "I am sorry for all that has happened. .... I'm very sorry that I've hurt the people around me. I hope to be given the space to recover."