Bankrupt ex-lawyer allegedly pretended to still be in practice, cheated clients of nearly $40k
A bankrupt lawyer who did not have a valid practising certificate allegedly pretended she could still work for her clients, and purportedly cheated them of nearly $40,000.
Helen Chia Chwee Imm, 53, who was a lawyer for more than 20 years, was charged on Nov 21 with four offences: two for cheating, and two for pretending she was duly authorised to act as an advocate or a solicitor.
The police said Chia was working with the firm Chia-Thomas Law Chambers, but she did not hold a valid practising licence at the time of the offences.
The Straits Times previously reported that between Dec 17, 2016, and May 30, 2018, Chia did not have a valid practising certificate because she was an undischarged bankrupt.
During this period, charge sheets said she pretended to be a practising lawyer for at least two cases.
Chia is said to have provided legal advice and performed legal work in a custody case, as well as for a personal protection order (PPO) application in another case. The names of her clients were redacted in charge sheets.
The clients believed Chia was a practising lawyer when she was not, and they were dishonestly induced to pay for her work, according to court documents.
In the custody case, Chia allegedly cheated her client to make payments totalling $13,685 between Aug 25, 2017, and March 12, 2018.
For the other case, her client purportedly paid her $26,000 between Feb 14, 2018, and May 2, 2018.
In October 2021, Chia was found guilty by a disciplinary tribunal of two misconduct charges in a care and custody case. It is unclear if it is one of the cases in her criminal charges.
She had pretended she was authorised to represent a female client in the case, when she did not have a valid practising certificate.
She came clean about her status as an undischarged bankrupt only in the midst of the case, and later borrowed $60,000 from the client and the client’s family on the pretext of annulling her bankruptcy.
Under professional conduct rules, lawyers are prohibited from borrowing from their clients, without them seeking independent advice.
Chia’s bankruptcy was eventually annulled on May 22, 2018, and she obtained a valid practising certificate on May 31 the same year.
The client subsequently lodged a complaint to the Law Society against her.
Chia was struck off the roll by the Court of Three Judges in August 2022.
The ex-lawyer, who is out on $80,000 bail, is represented by Mr Nicholas Jeyaraj of Nicholas & Tan Partnership. Her case will be heard again on Dec 20.
If found guilty of pretending to be duly authorised to act as an advocate or a solicitor, Chia may be fined up to $25,000, or jailed for up to six months.
The offence of cheating carries a maximum 10-year jail term and a fine.