SINGAPORE: The Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) on Monday (February 28) urged the Tri-Judge Court to have entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow Theng Beng disbarred for misconduct in 2018 when he physically and verbally assaulted his employees.
LawSoc’s lead attorney, Dinesh Dhillon, said Seow’s behavior, as a senior barrister of around 19 at the time, “brings serious dishonor to the bar”.
He said Seow not only showed “no remorse”, he also conducted media interviews downplaying the incidents and placed the incidents in the public eye, his only concern being “his own reputation”.
The Court of Three Judges is the highest disciplinary body responsible for dealing with misconduct by lawyers. Monday’s hearing included Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Justice Steven Chong and Justice Andrew Phang. They have reserved judgment on the penalties to be imposed on Seow and will release the verdict at a later date.
The three judges presiding over Monday’s hearing made comments disapproving of Seow’s behavior, with Judge Phang saying he had “never seen or heard anything like it” in his years as a lawyer.
Seow, who also faces pending criminal charges in state court for the same incidents, pleaded guilty to all eight charges brought against him by LawSoc for physically and verbally assaulting three of his employees in March and April 2018.
Footage of the incident at Seow’s law firm in South Bridge Road on April 17, 2018 has leaked online and gone viral. It showed Rachel Kang Pei Shan, an artist berating Seow and head of Beam Artists events, before forcefully poking his forehead with his finger.
He then pushed a folder Ms. Kang was holding, causing her to step back. After that, he started questioning his niece, Brenda Kong Shin Ying, who was working for him at the time, about the whereabouts of another employee.
In the crash that followed, he advanced on Ms. Kong and pushed her, 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 stepped in to pull him away, and shouted “you stop that” while slapping Ms Tan on her arm.
An audio recording of Seow’s assault on Ms Kong was captured on her phone and a video of the attack was uploaded to YouTube a year after the incident.
UNACCEPTABLE CONDUCT: LEAD LAWSOC COUNSEL
On Monday, LawSoc’s lead attorney, Mr Dhillon, pushed for Seow to be struck off, saying his conduct was “unacceptable” regardless of an employee’s skill set.
Seow yelled at one of the victims and threw folders, boxes and a metal stapler at her, even threatening to kill her on one occasion. At the time of the incident he was a member of the bar and it was not a one-time incident but “unacceptable behavior over time”, Mr Dhillon said.
He called Seow’s lack of remorse particularly aggravating, pointing out how he downplayed the incident by pointing fingers at the victim and conducting media interviews saying he was slapped first.
Mr Dhillon urged the court not to give weight to the defense’s psychiatric evidence, which indicated Seow suffered from adjustment disorder at the time.
Seow saw the psychiatrist only a year after the incident, and the report provides “very little help” because it doesn’t explain what adjustment disorder is and how it contributed to Seow’s behavior, said said Mr. Dhillon.
On top of that, the psychiatric report appears to be based on a version of events inconsistent with the facts and video evidence, Mr Dhillon said.
The version of events Seow gave to his psychiatrist casts himself as a conspiracy victim, which LawSoc completely rejects. Instead, it was the reputation of the profession that was damaged by Seow’s misdeeds, Mr Dhillon said.
He said the matter was “extremely egregious” and warranted disbarment, adding that Seow repeatedly abused his dominance over his employees.
SEOW WAS UNDER STRESS: LAWYER
Seow’s attorney, Eugene Thuraisingam, said his client admits he has failed to achieve the required ideals of the legal profession and is prepared to accept the necessary consequences.
He pointed out that Seow was “under stress” at the time and has since taken active steps such as continuing to see his psychiatrist and take his medication.
Chief Justice Menon arrested Mr Thuraisingam after repeating the stress point. He said: “As far as I’m concerned, I just want to tell you that this doesn’t cut the ice. Because every lawyer…is stressed out.”
Judge Chong then questioned Mr Thuraisingam on what he thought was the appropriate sanction. “I saw the video. He was out of control,” Judge Chong said.
Mr Thuraisingam said it was ‘just one incident in 19 years’ and questioned whether delisting would be warranted on the basis of ‘this bad patch he has been through’.
He said there were no punches, but that Seow was “trying to slap someone.”
“It was a lot of drama and a few slaps,” the attorney explained.
The Chief Justice said that account did not match what Seow did. Judge Phang added that he was not sure if what Mr Thuraisingam was saying “actually helps or if it is emblematic of this lack of remorse”.
After heaving a sigh, he said, “I’ve never seen or heard anything like that, in (the) years that I was a lawyer…I think…you’re trying to justify something that really can’t be justified.”
According to Thuraisingam, Seow is still currently practicing as a lawyer.
Seow pleaded guilty to his criminal charges in 2020, but a Newton hearing is currently underway to settle questions about whether and when Seow had a mental disorder. He has not yet been sentenced by the district court.