Disciplinary tribunal finds lawyer guilty of grossly improper conduct involving ex-client's $30,000

Samuel Devaraj
The Straits Times
Aug 22, 2023

Lawyer and opposition politician Lim Tean was found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal on two counts of grossly improper conduct in the discharge of his professional duty.

This involved $30,000 belonging to his former client, who had discharged Mr Lim from a case regarding a motor vehicle accident claim.

Mr Lim faces possible disciplinary action after retaining a cheque for that amount after he was discharged, then failing to pay the sum into his firm’s client account.

He will face the Court of Three Judges, which can suspend, disbar or fine lawyers.

According to a disciplinary tribunal report published on Tuesday, Mr Suresh Kumar A. Jesupal appointed Mr Lim on Oct 23, 2018, to act for him in the accident claim.

On Oct 8, 2019, Mr Suresh Kumar was awarded $50,000 in a judgment issued on the case.

After discharging Mr Lim as his lawyer, Mr Suresh Kumar appointed Joseph Chen & Co on Nov 13, 2019. The report did not state why he discharged Mr Lim.

Joseph Chen & Co sent a letter to Mr Lim’s firm, Carson Law Chambers, on the same day to inform him that he had been discharged with immediate effect. It added that it was instructed by Mr Suresh Kumar to take over his case and all other related proceedings.

The next day, Willy Tay Chambers, the solicitors for the defendant in Mr Suresh Kumar’s case, sent a letter to Carson Law Chambers dated Nov 13, 2019, with a cheque for $30,000 as interim payment for the judgment sum.

On or about March 23, 2020, Mr Suresh Kumar submitted a complaint against Mr Lim about the matter, and it was brought before an inquiry committee.

Based on the report, the Law Society of Singapore council determined that there should be a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal.

The Law Society had initially brought a third charge, claiming that Mr Lim had misappropriated the $30,000 by failing or neglecting to pay Mr Suresh Kumar.

The charge was withdrawn after Mr Suresh Kumar declined to give evidence for the prosecution, which was necessary for its case.

Mr Lim argued that even after the letter informing him of the change of solicitors was sent, Mr Suresh Kumar continued to go to the Carson Law Chambers’ office for meetings.

Mr Lim also claimed there was a previous arrangement where Mr Suresh Kumar was to pay the proceeds of the judgment sum to his creditor and to Mr Lim, before he received any money.

The tribunal found that Mr Lim was fully aware by Nov 14, 2019, that Mr Suresh Kumar had discharged him as a lawyer, yet he deposited the cheque into his firm’s bank account instead of the firm’s client account.

Said the tribunal: “(Mr Lim’s) act was not accidental or inadvertent but a deliberate one. No evidence has been presented by (Mr Lim) as to what actually happened to the money thereafter.”

The tribunal said it was troubled that Mr Lim did not state that Carson Law Chambers had the cheque when he responded to the letter sent by Mr Suresh Kumar’s new lawyers.

“The inference is that (Mr Lim) had intentionally kept this fact from Joseph Chen & Co and/or (Mr Suresh Kumar) until after he had dealt with the proceeds,” it added.

On the charge relating to paying the cheque to his law firm’s bank account instead of the client account, the tribunal said Mr Lim admitted to breaching the related rule.

However, he argued that his failure to do so was not a deliberate attempt to flout the rules but an oversight not amounting to grossly improper conduct or conduct unbefitting of an advocate or a solicitor.

The tribunal said the requirement for a law firm to have a client account has been in existence for many years. And this requirement is based on the need to protect the clients’ money and to prevent any mixing of clients’ money with other money.

“The tribunal therefore finds it difficult to believe that (Mr Lim), despite having been a lawyer for 30 years, did not know of the requirement to have a client account, or that he had to pay clients’ money into this account.”

The Straits Times

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