The members of the Cambodian Bar Association on Saturday voted almost unanimously to expel lawyer Benson Samay and threatened to kick out the top bar officials for not acting to remove the embattled lawyer.
The bar association members, who met at an “extraordinary session” on Saturday, were protesting Benson Samay’s appointment to serve as the country’s official notary. At least 140 out of 250 members of the bar took part in the meeting.
“Ninety-eight percent of the bar [in attendance Saturday] voted to dismiss Benson Samay, and they threatened to dismiss the bar council because they could not make a decision on whether to remove Benson Samay,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project and a member of the bar, who attended Saturday’s meeting.
The Bar Council is made up of the 13 top members of the bar association and is responsible for protecting and monitoring the legal practice in Cambodia.
According to Sok Sam Oeun, the bar members voted that Benson Samay would face a conflict of interest if he continued to practice law and serve as the notary. They also decided by vote that Benson Samay “distorted” the royal subdecree appointing him as the country’s only notary.
“There will be a conflict of interest because [Benson Samay] is a lawyer and the notary,” said David Chaniawa, head of the law firm David Chaniawa and Associates, who also attended Saturday’s meeting. “He has been officially disbarred.”
Bar Association President Ang Eng Thong declined to comment on the matter on Sunday, and no Bar Council members could be reached for comment Sunday.
Benson Samay was heavily criticized earlier this month when his position as notary became public. The position of notary—a legal professional responsible for drafting and officiating all legal documents and having the power to mediate land and business disputes—came under fire earlier because it appears to supersede legal and judicial powers and could be used for personal enrichment.
“I heard and was appalled by the conduct of some of the members of the bar association at [Saturday’s meeting],” stated Benson Samay in a faxed statement to The Cambodia Daily on Sunday. “Threats were hurled at the president of the Bar Council calling for my expulsion.”
Benson Samay said he was not invited and did not attend the meeting.
He saidt the vote to disbar him was not legal because the association never brought official complaints to him personally, as outlined in the group’s rules.
“The ‘anger’ sparked by these lawyers [is] basically out of jealousy because I was given the opportunity to assist the Government [as notary],” he said. He said he would not appeal the vote against him because he believed it was illegal.
(Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)