Law Association to probe AG’s conduct in Miami case

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

President of the Law Association Sophia Chote, SC. File photo/Jeff K. Mayers

PUBLIC ALLEGATIONS of possible ethical breaches of the Legal Profession Act by Attorney General (AG) Reginald Armour, SC, have triggered an investigation by the Law Association.

After a three-hour meeting chaired by Sophia Chote, SC, president of the association, the body issued a one-page statement commenting for the first time on the controversy surrounding the AG’s disqualification as this country’s legal representative in a multi-million dollar civil forfeiture lawsuit filed in the Miami-Dade circuit court.

Opposition politicians and other members of the legal fraternity have been hammering the association to break its silence on the issue since media reports on June 5, detailed the outcome of the Miami hearing. Members of the legal fraternity say it is trite law that a lawyer cannot represent and prosecute the same client.

At its monthly meeting, Chote was the only one physically present at the association’s Frederick Street, office with 12 of the 18 council members joining virtually.

The meeting began shortly after 3 pm and concluded around 6.20 pm. Copies of the association’s press release were distributed to members of the media camped outside.

“The council considers it an important issue warranting comment in accordance with its statutory duties in the Legal Profession Act Chapter 90:03, but, in order to provide informed comment, the council is actively seeking to verify the facts. We are requesting certified copies of the court proceedings, including the affidavit and transcripts, which we will then review.

“The council will also consider the Honourable Attorney General’s recent media statements and, if necessary, will request the Honourable Attorney General’s comments before the publication of a statement. The council also intents to review any appeal filed against the order of the Miami-Dade court to determine whether any matters on appeal are relevant to the issues on which it proposes to offer a statement.”

The association said, contrary to media reports, it had not received a requisition for a special general meeting to discuss the matter.

Lawyers who are behind a petition seeking to call the special general meeting of the members to vote on a no-confidence motion against the Attorney General said they were unable to gather sufficient signatures, around 35, in time to submit the matter before the council on Tuesday. Sources said they managed to get 19 signatories and intend to submit the petition to the association on Wednesday.

Newsday understands that Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar who has been leading the charge for the Attorney General to resign over the matter has called in a senior counsel to act on her behalf and make representations to the association.

On May 2, US judge Reemberto Diaz automatically disqualified Armour and the US law firm retained to prosecute former government minister Brian Kuei Tung and others accused of criminal misconduct in the construction of the $1.6 billion Piarco Airport terminal building because of Armour’s previous representation of Kuei Tung in parallel criminal proceedings in TT.

The civil case was filed in 2004 and had been fixed for trial when Kuei Tung filed a motion to strike out the claim based on Armour’s apparent conflict of interest. The matter has been appealed by the government and a new law firm, White and Case has been retained by the government to pursue the claim. Cabinet has given former attorney general Faris Al-Rawi the responsibility to oversee the case.

Armour, 65, who was appointed attorney general on March 16, in a surprise Cabinet reshuffle, replacing Al-Rawi who was shifted to the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government, in a media statement on June 4, said the decision by the US judge was “patently wrong.”

He said on March 30, he disclosed at the first opportunity his role as a defence attorney to the US firm, Sequor Law, and played a minimal role thereafter in conversations with the firm on two other occasions, April 10 and 14. Over $20 million paid to Sequor Law by taxpayers is now unrecoverable, government officials said.

In an affidavit, Armour opposed Kuei Tung’s motion claiming that he was a junior lawyer who played a minimal role limited to “legal research and taking notes.”

The public record shows Armour, who was conferred with the status of senior counsel in 2003, represented Kuei Tung during 2003-2008 and had crossed-examined state witnesses in the preliminary enquiry. He also represented the accused before a commission of enquiry into the airport project in 2002.