Unlike most of Singapore’s Internet-obsessed population, entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow, who made his name representing Michelle Saram and Tanya Chua in their legal cases, still has not heard the now-viral audio clip of him getting into a dispute with an employee, who turned out to be his niece. “I probably won’t, until the dust has fully settled, because it is too painful,” he tells us over the phone.
The dust he is referring to is the media maelstrom he found himself in when a 19-year-old former employee, who is not his niece, lodged a police report accusing the 45-year-old lawyer of physical and verbal abuse. A day later, the aforementioned audio clip of Samuel getting into an altercation with his niece went viral online.
This is where it gets a tad complicated. What you hear in the clip is not what had transpired between Samuel and the 19-year-old former employee. The 19-year-old former employee who had lodged the police report, is not at all part of the audio clip, and contrary to what the Internet says, is neither Samuel’s niece nor the girl you hear in the clip telling Samuel to “stop” [beating his niece].
And so, at least for those few days, the lawyer became Singapore’s most talked-about and, if online comments were to be believed, vilified man.
But what a difference a week makes. Samuel, who tells us he was advised “to lie low” during that period, has since resolved the issues with his niece. In a press conference held shortly after the audio clip first went viral, he apologised for slapping his niece, saying that it’s a family dispute and that he had acted as an uncle and not her boss. During our interview, he also declines to answer questions about his niece because “it’s a family issue”.
What Samuel will talk about is the accusation that he had abused his former employee, who has since withdrawn the police report she had filed against him. In a joint press release issued by Samuel’s management company Beam Artistes and the 19-year-old former employee, the latter had said that her actions were "misguided", and “led by several disgruntled ex-lawyers" from Samuel’s law firm. She also added that she would work with Mr Seow, whom she referred to as “an important mentor and benefactor”, to ensure that “justice is done”. Samuel too said that he would “ensure justice is meted out”.
Yup, turns out this saga has more plot twists then a, um, courtroom drama. And Samuel, while vindicated of any legal wrongdoing, is aware of how this scandal has affected his reputation. Though to be honest, this whole saga does sound like office politics blown way out of proportion. But the flamboyant lawyer has never been one to shy away from speaking up, and here he sheds some light on the matter in this exclusive interview.
8 DAYS: So how have you been?
SAMUEL SEOW: I feel a bit more settled now. But I was quite shaken when it happened.
What was your reaction when the news first went public?
‘Cos I’ve been working in the media industry for such a long time, when you see such things happening to other people, you would internally go, ‘who’s wrong, who’s right’. But if it happens to yourself and you know the truth but for all sorts of reasons, you perhaps cannot be very open about the truth, and you are advised by a lot of people to say no and all that, when that happens, you feel a bit helpless and… I was depressed for quite a number of days.
How did you family react to the news?
My mother is quite hurt about this whole thing. You live your whole life trying to make your parents proud of you and these type of things happen. After all I’ve achieved in my career, this is the first time I’ve had such bad press, and you will feel like it will scar you. I think after that dramatic emotional moment passes, you realise that there are a lot of people who will be more rational than that, and if they are not rational and they jump to conclusions, it might be a temporary thing. For the rest of people who, from now on, will continue to always have that impression of me, then those are people who don’t know me very well.
How did you and your 19-year-old former employee resolve things?
What happened was that she realised she had been taken for a ride by the people who were guiding her on what to do and she has shared with me a lot of information and evidence on this. It also seemed as if whoever planted that recording device actually planned for certain things to happen. And there was no reason for the recording to spread around like it did but it has. So I think that there are certain people who are perhaps not very happy with things and I would think that those people have already left [my firm]. Until now, I’m still trying to figure this whole thing out. But I’ve realised that when people want to sabo you, they will find ways to sabo you. But I am a lawyer and I’ve been fighting such battles for other people. Now that it has happened to me, I think I need to get past the emotional barrier and start to look professionally at what has happened and who has done it. Then I’ll decide what I want to do.
Let’s get this clear: so the 19-year-old former employee was asked to make stuff up?
It seems as if it was a concerted effort to bring this to as much light as possible. If you look at the people who are sharing the news, it becomes quite clear who the disgruntled ex-lawyers are. They would also create different personas on forums ’cos you can tell from the way they write that it’s the same people. I just wish they would move on. After so many years of not working with me, to still have so much angst, it’s a bit unhealthy lah.
Why do you think these “disgruntled ex-lawyers” are out to get you?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s ’cos I don’t act in a very lawyerly manner so they may feel like a person like me shouldn’t be allowed to exist (laughs). Maybe sometimes I was a bit fierce with them. I don’t know! As far as I am concerned, I just try to do my work well.
It all kinda sounds like a Ch 8 drama.
Yeah, but the fact is that people are very different from the past. Last time, even if you are not happy in a job, you’ll just quit. But now, if people are not happy, I suppose they’ll like to hit back in some way. There might be a variety of reasons why this happened. And I must always internalise and see if I have been too fierce to people. But I maintain my position which is that I’m a perfectionist and I try to get things done as best as I can. Sometimes, I can speak harshly but I don’t beat people. It is not something I do and that’s why she retracted those statements. At the same time, what happened in my family is what happened within my family. So I hope people will understand. I ran my firm for 13 years and I started it from nothing and I turned it into something. And I hope that Singaporeans will try to
be proud of Singaporeans and not try to pull people down just because they have an off-the-cuff sentiment about that person.
For many people who have heard the audio clip, the dispute started ’cos you were looking for someone named Shaun [one of the lawyers in Samuel’s firm]. So where was or, should we say, is Shaun?
Um, I think figuratively, all I can say that he’s irretrievably lost to me. We haven’t spoken since [the incident].
Does Shaun still work for you?
No, he doesn’t.
Are you embarrassed by this whole saga?
I think when it happened there was a lot of sadness ’cos this 19-year-old girl seemed to misunderstand where I was coming from. But since she has recanted [her police report], we have started talking. I brought her to church twice. She’s never been to Mass so I hope I continue, even though we no longer work together, to be a positive example. She is sorry that she hurt me so much. But I told her that these things are temporary and that I intend to do better.
Are you more wary of what you say in the office now, in case someone records you again?
Yeah I guess. This episode has made me very wary of a lot of things ’cos I am now more in the public eye than ever. I used to think that I wasn’t but now… (sighs) it seems to be on a different level. It’s not about being wary but more about being aware that my actions actually represent a lot of things to a lot of people. But now that there is some public spotlight, I hope to use this to show people that I am more than those few minutes of recording. I intend to do very well in life and I hope to get that opportunity to.
Have you searched your office to see if there are any more recording devices?
I have actually asked the IT people to do a sweep to see if there are any recording bugs. When I was young, even when your boss is difficult, you will learn as much as you can from him or her. You won’t think of attacking. But right now, for people these days, they have to be so vindictive and want to attack their bosses even though they are paid on time and they have been treated in a way where they can learn things. I mean, not happy is not happy but you don’t have to be brutal.
Do you think you have a temper?
I think most people have tempers. I know losing my temper is not something I should be proud of but I’m saying that people have limits to their patience. But to say that I have an exceptionally bad temper, I don’t think I can go there. Sometimes I do fly off the handle and become a bit harsh, but I certainly don’t punch people and don’t throw things and I certainly don’t hurt people.
Has your business been affected?
No. I think in fact, people who are my friends have rallied for support and this has shown me who my real friends are.
Do you now have an aversion to the words “she beat me”, which was repeated many times in the recording?
I think they are scars and when you pick at scars now, when they are still raw, of course you would
[have an aversion]. But I hope to use this period of time to become a better boss, not so that people can’t record me but so that I actually live a life that is beyond reproach. And moving on, I hope I lead a more fulfilling life, to be able to look back at this whole thing as a positive learning experience.