Lawyer who was absent from court and ignored more than 70 messages from client suspended

SINGAPORE - A lawyer caused his client to be forever barred from claiming a sum of about $170,000 when he failed to attend a crucial court hearing.

Instead of taking steps to remedy the situation, for the next 14 months, he ignored more than 70 text and e-mail messages from his client.

On Friday (Feb 21), Mr Peter Ezekiel, who has been a lawyer for more than 22 years, was suspended from practising for two years for his misconduct.

In handing down the punishment, the Court of Three Judges said that it was warranted given the "prolonged duration and blatant nature of his wrongdoing".

The two-year suspension will take effect after the expiry of Mr Ezekiel's current suspension for a separate offence.

Last year, he was suspended for three years for acting for two clients with conflicting interests in a criminal matter and ended up favouring one over the other.

In the current case, he was appointed to act for a company called Worldwide Factoring, which wanted to stake a third-party claim in a civil dispute over a sum of $170,140.56 between two other firms.

On April 4, 2017, Worldwide sent him a cheque for $300 as a deposit but he did not issue a receipt.

He failed to attend a hearing on April 11, 2017, and as a result, the court threw out Worldwide's claim and ordered it to pay costs of $850 each to the plaintiff and the defendant.

The court had earlier ordered the company to engage a lawyer by the hearing date, failing which its claim would be dismissed.

A few days later, Mr Ezekiel contacted the defendant's lawyers to find out the status of the case but did not inform his client of the outcome.

The client found out only on April 24, 2017, through a letter from the defendant's lawyers.

Company representatives sent numerous text messages and e-mails to Mr Ezekiel but he did not respond. The company lodged a complaint with the Law Society in September 2017.

In early 2018, Mr Ezekiel signed two notes promising to make things right for his client. But he did not file any court application and continued ignoring text messages.

In June last year, a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of three charges - failing to account for the deposit, failing to attend court and failing to contact his client.

The tribunal said that his refusal to contact his client was "egregious and inexcusable" and that his case was serious enough to be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which has the power to suspend and disbar lawyers.

On Friday, Mr Ezekiel was not in court to argue his case.

The Law Society's lawyer, Ms Wendy Lin, noted that he did not deny receiving the text messages and e-mails and that his lack of response was clearly not an oversight.

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