Trinidad: Lawyer to pay client $.1m or face jail time

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Trinidad: Lawyer to pay client $.1m or face jail time

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – THE High Court has given an attorney one month within which to pay a former client in excess of $.1 million that represented money the attorney failed to hand over to the woman following a High Court ruling in 2015.

Should the attorney, Kathy-Ann Mottley, not pay the $107,000 to Wendy Phillip before March 2, then a warrant will be issued by the High Court for her arrest and she will be made to serve 30 days’ simple imprisonment.

The order was made by Justice Frank Seepersad at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain yesterday after Phillip’s current attorney, Brent Winter, brought an application under Section 3 of the Debtors Act asking that Mottley be committed to a term of imprisonment over her failure to pay the money.

Even though Mottley and Phillip had entered into an agreement at the Court of Appeal that the attorney would pay the outstanding sum by November 2019, to date Mottley has only made a payment of $10,000.

The history of the matter dates back to 2015 when Mottley represented Phillip in the civil claim following the death of her son, Kareem Richards. A default judgment was granted in Phillip’s favour and the award of damages was later assessed by a High Court Master in the sum of $360,000.

That sum was paid to the attorney who in turn kept a “significant” amount for herself as legal fees for representing Phillip in the claim. But believing that she was being cheated out of her money by the attorney, Phillip later filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Committee of the Law Association.

Mottley was eventually found guilty of professional misconduct by the committee after it unearthed she retained in excess of what she was due for representing Phillip in the claim. She was ordered to pay Phillip an additional $113,000 and a fine of $10,000 was also imposed.

Mottley later appealed the ruling. However, when the appeal came up for hearing before Justice Mark Mohammed in December 2018, Mottley withdrew the appeal and agreed to pay the $113,000 in two instalments by no later than November 4, 2019.

She made a payment of $10,000 in May of last year but no further payment was made since.

Mottley was not present during yesterday’s hearing. Winter stated that under Section 3 of the Debtors Act, one could face up to one year’s imprisonment for such an offence. However, he suggested that Mottley be ordered to serve just one month behind bars. He pointed out that if the term is served this did not mean that the debt had vanished.

“It will still be money owed,” he said.

In making the order, Justice Seepersad said it was unacceptable that a citizen who had acquired a benefit since 2015 is yet to receive and enjoy that benefit. The judge said Phillip was already suffering the trauma of losing her son in an accident and was now being made to face an additional traumatic experience by the current situation.

He said all too often “unscrupulous” attorneys embark on representing individuals pro bono, only to deduct unreasonable sums when judgment is delivered in their favour. There is a need to have proper regulations so that citizens could have a way of knowing their rights when it comes to such a situation, he added.

The steps taken by Phillip were commendable, he said, pointing out that “the majority of people suffer in silence” because they are unaware that they have recourse in such situations.

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