SINGAPORE: A court on Wednesday (May 18) ordered entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow Theng Beng to be struck off the roll of advocates and solicitors for physically and verbally abusing his employees in 2018.
Delivering the judgment on behalf of the Court of Three Judges, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said there was due cause for disciplinary action against Seow.
"It is plain that a reasonable person would, without hesitation, say that as a solicitor he should not have done what he has done," said the Chief Justice.
"His misconduct brings him discredit as a lawyer and brings discredit to the legal profession as a whole."
The decision to strike off Seow, who has been a lawyer for about 20 years, came after the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) in February urged the court to make such an order.
Seow had pleaded guilty to eight charges brought against him by LawSoc for physically and verbally abusing three of his employees in March and April 2018.
At the time, he was the managing director of Samuel Seow Law Corporation and also owned a talent management company known as Beam Artistes.
Footage of an incident at Seow's then-law firm in South Bridge Road on Apr 17, 2018, went viral after it was leaked online.
It showed Seow reprimanding Beam Artistes events executive Rachel Kang Pei Shan, before forcefully poking her forehead with his finger. He then pushed a file Ms Kang was holding, causing her to stagger back.
After this, he began questioning his niece, Brenda Kong Shin Ying, who was working for him at the time, about where another employee was.
In the ensuing fracas, he pushed Ms Kong while another employee tried to restrain him. Seow then broke free and slapped his niece several times on her cheeks and head.
He later turned on employee Serene Tan, who intervened to pull him away. He shouted "you stop it" while hitting Ms Tan on her arm.
An audio recording of Seow's assault against Ms Kong was captured on her phone, and a video of the attack was uploaded on YouTube a year after the incident.
On other occasions, Seow also screamed at Ms Kang and threw files, boxes and a metal stapler at her, even threatening to kill her on one occasion.
He faces pending criminal charges in the State Courts over the same incidents of workplace abuse.
LawSoc said in response to queries from CNA that it expects each of its members to act with honour and integrity at all times.
"This includes, not just how lawyers behave in court, but also how they behave to their colleagues and to subordinates at the office," said LawSoc.
"Senior lawyers, in particular, hold positions of authority, and must exhibit a greater degree of decorum and professionalism," it added.
LawSoc also said that in abusing his staff, Seow fell short of the "high standards that the profession holds dear".
"His misconduct discredits him, and discredits the profession. So long as he remains a member of the profession, it continues to undermine the standing of the profession. That is why the Law Society took the action that it did.
"Everyone who works in a law firm must feel safe. There must be a culture that promotes mental wellness and security. The Law Society will continue to promote such values as a matter of priority."
In Wednesday's ruling, the Court of Three Judges said that in cases of misconduct not involving dishonesty or conflicts of interest, there were two questions to consider when deciding if a striking-off order was warranted.
First, the court should consider whether the misconduct points to any character defects making the lawyer unfit to be a member of the legal profession.
Second, the court should consider whether the lawyer has caused grave dishonour to the standing of the legal profession.
The court found that both questions were answered in the affirmative in Seow's case.
Seow's conduct "evinced such volatility and lack of self-control that it detracts from his ability to discharge his professional functions", said Chief Justice Menon.
"His behaviour was egregious, involving both protracted instances of physical and verbal abuse ... and extreme threats."
He also said that the "quick succession" of eight instances of misconduct in just over a month reflected a sustained pattern of offensive conduct.
This was deemed to be an aggravating factor, along with Seow's position of authority over his employees.
The judges found that the leaked footage showed that abusive language and "extremely unruly" behaviour were involved.
They also noted witness testimony that Seow was "a temperamental man who was prone to bouts of extreme emotion", and that shouting and screaming were regular occurrences.
The judgment placed limited weight on Seow's claims of remorse, noting that he initially downplayed his misconduct until the leaked video footage emerged online.
It also found that there was little evidence to support Seow's argument that he suffered from adjustment disorder at the time and that this contributed to his actions.
"We are therefore satisfied that the respondent’s conduct demonstrates a character defect rendering the solicitor unfit to be a member of the legal profession," said the Chief Justice.
The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers' misconduct. The panel for Seow's case comprised Chief Justice Menon, Justice Steven Chong and Justice Andrew Phang.