SINGAPORE - For three years, Madam Hedy Mok took to the courts to battle a former tour guide from China who had swindled her widowed aunt of her wealth.
The guide Yang Yin is now in jail, but the 64-year-old tour agency owner was back in the High Court again on Tuesday (Nov 7) - this time to fight with her former lawyers over legal fees.
After the hearing on Tuesday, her legal fees were cut to $450,500, down from the $1.025 million that her former law firm Selvam had originally wanted to bill her.
The million-dollar fees were for legal services the law firm rendered to Madam Mok and her aunt, Madam Chung Khin Chun, 90, between August 2014 and December 2016 against Yang.
The law firm gave Madam Mok four bills totalling $1.025 million for services such as appointing Madam Mok as guardian to her aunt who has dementia, revoking Yang's legal powers to manage the widow's affairs and suing him for manipulating the elderly woman to siphon off her wealth. It then gave Madam Mok a 30 per cent discount, cutting the fees to $717,500, after she complained about the amount.
"The fees were too high," the tour agency owner told The Straits Times on Wednesday. "I was shocked."
The $717,500 fees subsequently came under the scrutiny of both the Family Justice Courts and the High Court.
In September, Family Justice Courts judge Colin Tan Boon Chwee ordered the fees to be cut by $42,000.
On Tuesday, during a High Court hearing held in chambers, Justice Valerie Thean reduced the fees by another $225,000.
Both hearings were triggered by a rule that requires legal fees in property recovery cases under the Mental Capacity Act to undergo taxation, or scrutiny, by the courts.
In Madam Mok's case, both the Family Justice Courts and High Court each examined two of the four bills.
Madam Mok was represented by Mr Simon Tan of Attorneys Inc, her new lawyer, at both the hearings.
Her previous lawyer, Mr Peter Doraisamy, left Selvam earlier this year to set up his own practice. The law firm was represented by a three-man legal team headed by the firm's managing director, Mr Sarbjit Singh Chopra.
While the fees may have been cut, Madam Mok said that she was not completely satisfied, but she will not appeal against the decision.
"I felt I was overcharged to begin with," she said. She had asked the courts to cut the fees to $215,500.
Selvam's Mr Chopra refuted Madam Mok's allegation that there was overcharging. He said that if Madam Mok had felt that she was being overcharged, she would not have stuck with her former lawyer, Mr Doraisamy, and the firm for more than two years. She was "clearly happy" with Mr Doraisamy's work and charges because she continued to appoint him in the law suit against Yang after he had left the firm.
"There was also no allegation by either Ms Mok or her solicitors of any overcharging at the taxation hearings," he said. "The taxing judges' decision with regard to the reduction of bills is not unusual and cannot strictly be translated to mean 'overcharging'. "
Meanwhile, Yang, the man at the centre of the storm, remains in jail.
The 43-year-old had met Madam Chung, a retired physiotherapist, in 2008 when he acted as her private tour guide during a China trip. A year later, he moved into her bungalow in Yio Chu Kang and claimed the widow wanted him to be her "grandson". The widow, whose husband died in 2007, is childless and was diagnosed with dementia in 2014.
Yang pleaded guilty in August last year to misappropriating $500,000 in February 2010 and $600,000 in January 2012 from Madam Chung. He also pleaded guilty to 120 charges, including falsifying receipts for a sham company to stay here and obtain permanent residency. He was sentenced to a total of 11 years and two months in jail.