AG exempt from punishment if found guilty of misconduct by Law Association

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Reginald Armour at the Parliament. – File photo

The Attorney General (AG) is exempt from punishment of any finding of professional misconduct and the outcome of any investigation by the Law Association can only lead to a recommendation to the Prime Minister, according to section 37 (2) of the Legal Profession Act.

And a vote of no confidence in AG Reginald Armour, SC, by the majority membership of the Law Association does not equate to automatic resignation, according to senior lawyers following the debacle in the multi-million dollar civil asset forfeiture case in a Miami court last month.

The scenario comes as the council of the Law Association has initiated an investigation into possible breaches of the code of ethics governing lawyers against the AG after he was disqualified as this country’s representative in a lawsuit filed against former government minister Brian Kuei Tung and others arising out of the Piarco Airport development project, almost two decades ago.

There has been no comment from the Prime Minister, who is in Los Angeles, California, since the story broke on June 5, and questions sent to him via WhatsApp have been ignored.

Government sources said they have since procured legal opinions from two senior counsel to support the position of the AG that his limited involvement did not contaminate or prejudice the case for the state. Armour, apart from an initial response on June 4, where he recounted his role in the matter, has maintained his silence. People close to the AG says he maintains he has done nothing wrong.

Armour had represented Kuei Tung in parallel criminal proceedings in TT as a criminal defence attorney but in a sworn affidavit opposing Kuei Tung’s motion to strike out the lawsuit, he said he played a minimal role as a junior attorney, legal researcher and note taker even though the public records seem to contradict his account.

He also claimed he was “walled off” by the US law firm, Sequor Law, hired to represent the government after he disclosed his lawyer/client relationship with Kuei Tung.

He admitted to overseeing case management issues such as the “logistics for trial, naming a person to attend mediation and to attend trial, payment of invoices and signing off on a (US$4 million) settlement involving an American accused of corruption in the matter who has agreed to testify against Kuei Tung and other in the local courts.

US judge Reemberto Diaz, after a 40-minute hearing, did not buy Armour’s account on April 27, and automatically disqualified him and Sequor Law and allowed the government 48 hours to find new attorneys.

A government source said the state is confident to overturn the judge’s ruling on appeal since the Armour is not subject to the rules which apply to US attorneys in the state of Florida.

During the hearing before Diaz, the state’s lawyer argued if the judge agreed with the arguments of Kuei Tung’s lawyers “you would be the first judge and only judge in the United States to apply an ethical rule to a person who is not counsel of record, a member of the bar that the ethical rules attach to.”

In the past, the Law Association has convened a special general meeting where a no-confidence motion was approved against former attorney general John Jeremie who was accused of improperly and illegally interfering with criminal prosecutions for political purposes. In July 2009, lawyers, by a vote of 127-59, condemned in the strongest manner, the reported attempts by Jeremie to undermine and threaten the constitutional independence in the office of DPP. Jeremie remained in office after the vote.

In July 2016, a petition calling for the removal of then Law Association president Armour and vice president Gerry Brooks failed to get off the ground after almost half of the attorneys who initially supported it withdrew their support.

The motion had been brought against the two senior lawyers for their alleged failure to consult with the membership to obtain their view on the Strategic Services Agency (Amendment) Bill 2016 before meeting with then attorney general Faris Al-Rawi.

And in June 2017, the membership of the Law Association passed a no confidence motion against Chief Justice Ivor Archie and members of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission concerning their appointment of former chief magistrate Marcia Ayres-Caesar to the High Court bench even though she had 53 unfinished matters. Archie remains in office. The Chief Justice was also accused of allegations of misconduct in a separate matter of attempting to fast-track Housing Development Corporation (HDC) applications for various people but the Prime Minister refused to appoint a tribunal to investigate the matter under section 137 of the Constitution.

Legal Profession Act

Section 37 (1) A client or, by leave of the (disciplinary) committee, any other person alleging himself aggrieved by an act of professional misconduct (including any default) committed by an attorney-at-law, other than the Attorney General or a law officer, may apply to the committee to require the attorney-at-law to answer the allegations contained in a statutory declaration made by such person, and the Registrar or any member of the committee may make a like application to the committee in respect of allegations concerning any professional misconduct or any such criminal offence as may for the purposes of this section be prescribed by the council with the approval of the Chief Justice.

(2) In any matter or hearing before the court, where the court considers that any act of professional misconduct or any criminal offence prescribed under subsection (1) has been committed by an attorney-at-law other than the Attorney General or a law officer, the court may make or cause the Registrar to make an application to the committee in respect of the attorney-at-law under the subsection.