Tribunal finds lawyer guilty of taking advantage of subordinate

Under the pretence of gathering evidence for a case against a hotel, a lawyer lured his assistant to a room there, made an indecent proposal to "have an affair", and hugged and kissed her against her will.

For his professional misconduct in the 2013 incident, Mr Ismail Atan will be facing a Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body in the legal profession, which has the power to suspend or strike errant lawyers off the roll.

The 45-year-old was charged in 2014 with molesting the 28-year- old married woman. He was cleared of the charge last year after she accepted his offer to compound the matter for $3,000 in compensation and a letter of apology.

However, disciplinary proceedings were launched after the Attorney-General complained to the Law Society about his conduct.

Earlier this month, a two-member disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of grossly improper conduct when he lured his subordinate to the room, breaching professional rules by taking unfair advantage of her and conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.

The tribunal found the case serious enough to be referred to the court to decide on punishment.

Mr Ismail was representing a woman who had sued the VIP Hotel in Balmoral Crescent after she slipped and fell in the lobby.

On July 4, 2013, he told his assistant to go with him to the hotel for a site visit and pose as a couple to avoid arousing suspicion.

After lunch at the cafe, they walked around the second floor to look for possible water leaks that could cause the floor to be slippery.

He then told her he had booked a room and handed her the key card, telling her to wait inside while he continued to investigate.

But he followed her in, went in close to her and grabbed her. Though she shrank from him, he told her he liked her and suggested that they have an affair.

He held on to her and tried to kiss her despite her attempts to push him away. When she tried to make a run for it, he grabbed her handbag, snatched away the key card and rubbed himself against her.

He forced her to kiss him before he finally agreed to let her leave.

As he drove her back to the office, he continued to suggest that they have an affair.

The woman did not go to work for the next few days and resigned six days later, citing "intolerable sexual harassment" on his part. She also made a police report.

In his defence to the Law Society's charges of professional misconduct, he said he had to take a room to gain access to the second floor so as to understand the layout of the hotel.

This was to prepare his client for cross-examination in the upcoming trial, he said.

In its report released yesterday, the tribunal pointed out it was "clearly unnecessary" for him to investigate the second floor since the fall had taken place in the lobby.

Mr Ismail also said nothing physical occurred between him and the assistant and it was likely she had resigned because she knew she would not be appointed as a paralegal.

But the tribunal said this contradicted his own letter apologising for "unwarranted physical contact".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2016, with the headline 'Tribunal finds lawyer guilty of taking advantage of subordinate'. Print Edition | Subscribe