The National, Monday June 24th, 2013
By CHARLES MOI
THE former principal of a Port Moresby law firm has been jailed for nine months for failing to comply with a court to repay more than K700,000 to another law firm.
Emmanuel Mai, former principal of Mai Lawyers, was sentenced by Justice Derek Hartshorn in the National Court last Thursday.
Hartshorn ruled that Mai had failed to comply with court orders of May 11, 2012 to pay within three days the sum of K700,000 including interest into the trust account of Henao Lawyers. The judge also ordered that no part of the punishment be suspended.
“This may be the first occasion as far as am aware, of a lawyer in this jurisdiction being found guilty of contempt of court for failing to comply with a Court Order for the payment of money,” Hartshorn said in his ruling.
“It must be remembered that a lawyer’s first and paramount duty is to the court.
“The seriousness of the nonpayment of such an amount warrants a term of imprisonment. A term of imprisonment will also serve as a warning to others, especially lawyers, that court orders must be obeyed and that there are consequences for non compliance.”
Mai had pleaded guilty to a charge of contempt of court for disobeying an order to pay K700,000 with interest to Henao Lawyers.
He admitted the offence in court, saying had applied the money to his own use. The court was told that K700,000 was held in the trust account of Mai Lawyers, of which Mai was the company principal, on behalf of Madang Development Corporation Limited, when a payment order was made after Henao Lawyers were instructed to act for the plaintiff instead of Mai.
Mai said he had intended to repay the money to the Mai Lawyers’ trust account from legal fees due to him but these payments did not happen and he was unable to replace the K700,000 he had taken from the trust account.
The lawyer said he had since made a part payment of K100,000 to Henaos Lawyers’ trust account.
Mai ceased to practice as a lawyer because of his inability to repay the K700,000 and was engaged in project consultancy work to repay the debt.
Hartshorn also directed the National Court registrar to send a copy of his decision to the police commissioner and the PNG Law Society.