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Whidbey Island attorney resigns following theft allegations

Peter Moote, a prominent and longtime attorney on South Whidbey, resigned from the Washington State Bar Association in lieu of disbarment last week after being accused of stealing large amounts of money from two clients, according to documents provided by the bar association.

In essence, Moote is barred for life from practicing law in this state, which is a rare occurrence. He also agreed to pay restitution to both of his former clients.

At the same time, detectives with the Island County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the allegations for possible criminal charges against Moote.

“This may be a lot bigger than what is contained in the bar association documents,” said Detective Sgt. Mike Beech with the Island County Sheriff’s Office. He said he’s looking into other possible victims.

Moote’s attorney, Christopher Mainard of Seattle, said Moote is currently in bankruptcy proceedings for the purpose of “marshaling his assets to compensate any creditors.”

“He has a very supportive family that will help him in his efforts to make any injured party whole,” Mainard said.

Mainard explained that Moote is suffering from depression and other medical ailments; he plans to enter treatment.

Ironically, any criminal case against Moote may someday land in Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks’ office. Moote handled a case three years ago in which a former deputy prosecutor sued Banks over wrongful termination and a myriad of other issues.

If detectives determine an alleged crime occurred, Banks said he probably would shield himself from the case to avoid a perception of a conflict, though another attorney in his office could still handle any prosecution.

“The vast majority of lawyers in this county are honest and ethical. It’s too bad when someone who’s been around as along as Peter loses his way,” Banks said in an email message.

In two separate allegations, Moote was accused of settling civil cases without notifying his clients and stealing the settlement money, all the while telling his clients that their cases was ongoing, according to the statement of alleged misconduct from the disciplinary board of the state bar association.

In one case, Moote represented a disabled woman who had been injured in an accident. In 2005, he settled the claim for $85,000 with an insurance company and dismissed her suit without telling her. He received a third of the settlement, which is a traditional amount for an attorney to earn. But he also received a check for her $56,666 share of the settlement, forged her signature and disbursed the money to himself, the bar association claims.

In March of this year, Moote attempted to defraud another insurance provider involved in the case by filing fabricated arbitration decisions in King County Superior Court, the document states.

In the separate case, Moote represented a woman in a personal injury claim arising from an accident on Nov. 23, 2004, at the Useless Bay Country Club. The parties agreed to settle the claim in 2009 for $100,000. Again, Moote didn’t tell his client that the case was settled, deposited the money in a trust account and disbursed the money to himself, the bar association documents claim.

Moote later sent her two checks totaling $15,000, but claimed he couldn’t send her the rest because of non-existent medical liens. Then last February, he sent her a fraudulent accounting sheet misrepresenting the amount remaining in the fund, the document alleges.

The bar association’s disciplinary counsel, Kathleen Dassel, wrote in the statement of alleged misconduct that Moote committed first-degree theft, first-degree forgery and violated several areas of the code of ethics.

In his affidavit of resignation, Moote does not admit the alleged misconduct, but agrees that “the association could prove, by a clear preponderance of the evidence, the violations” and that the violations would suffice to result in disbarment.

Moote did not return calls for comment.

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