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'My daughter died twice': Mother breaks down as attorney who missed court appearances gets 1-year ban

By Son Ji-hyoung

Published : June 20, 2023 - 13:38

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This photo shows Lee Gi-cheol, who lost her daughter in 2015, speaking with reporters as she waits for the Korean Bar Association's decision over her attorney who failed to deliver on her fiduciary duty on Monday at the KBA headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap) This photo shows Lee Gi-cheol, who lost her daughter in 2015, speaking with reporters as she waits for the Korean Bar Association's decision over her attorney who failed to deliver on her fiduciary duty on Monday at the KBA headquarters in Seoul. (Yonhap)

High-profile attorney Kwon Gyeong-ae was given a one-year work suspension for neglecting her professional duty while representing a client whose daughter had died by suicide due to school violence.

Kwon's client was Lee Gi-cheol, the mother of a student named Park Ju-won who took her own life in 2015 at the age of 16 as a result of school violence. Lee publicly lamented a decision by the Korean Bar Association Monday evening, saying the punishment was too light.

"After all these transgressions, she can resume her duty after only a one-year break. Is it such a tough decision to hand down a permanent ban?" Lee told reporters as she broke down crying.

"My daughter died twice today. ... What's the point of the attorney's return if she doesn't even work for a client?"

According to the KBA, which holds licensing power in addition to overseeing representing over 30,000 attorneys, its penalty was based on "seriousness of (Kwon's) breach of fiduciary duty."

The KBA has five options for penalizing attorneys: a permanent ban, a non-permanent expulsion, a suspension of duty for up to three years, a monetary penalty of up to 30 million won ($23,400) or a verbal reprimand. Lee asked for Kwon to be permanently banned.

The decision prompted criticisms over the lightness of the penalty.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Democratic Party of Korea lawmaker Park Yong-jin urged the Justice Ministry to put a brake on the trend of leniency in KBA's disciplinary actions. Rep. Park added that only one attorney was banned permanently out of 487 complaints in the past five years.

"A one-year suspension is not consistent at all, and at the same time it is a 'dog-does-not-eat-dog' situation that fails to sympathize with a bereaved family member who lost a daughter due to school violence," Lee said.

The case in which Kwon represented Lee took an unexpected turn after six years.

Lee was seeking compensation in a civil suit filed in 2016 against the education authorities, officials of schools her daughter attended and parents of those engaged in bullying activities, a year after her daughter's death by suicide. Lee partially won a lawsuit in a district court in February 2022 that led to her getting 500 million won in compensation.

But the appeals court in November 2022 overturned the decision, simply because Kwon missed court three times for two months.

Kwon did not appeal the decision at the top court, and the attorney told Lee about the overturned decision five months after it had been passed down. Lee had reportedly paid Kwon some 10 million won to represent her.

Kwon is a prominent conservative figure who co-authored a book in 2020 criticizing former Justice Minister Cho Kuk over the political allegations surrounding him during the liberal Moon Jae-in administration.