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Allegations lead to Oak Harbor attorney’s ouster from firm

Douglas Saar,  left, and Christon Skinner pose for a photo during the opening of their new office in 2011. - file photo
Douglas Saar, left, and Christon Skinner pose for a photo during the opening of their new office in 2011.
— image credit: file photo

An Oak Harbor attorney was forced to withdraw from his law firm after he was accused of improperly depositing money from a trust account into his personal banking account, according to Island County Superior Court documents.

Douglas Saar’s name was dropped last month from Law Offices of Skinner & Saar, one of the most well-known law firms on Whidbey Island.

Attorney Christon Skinner said he knew nothing about the allegations until he received “a successor trustee’s report” last month which detailed alleged improprieties and over-billing by Saar.

Skinner said Saar was acting as trustee for the Edwin and Emily Upton Trust outside of the law firm and without his knowledge. He said it is improper for Saar to take on legal work outside the firm

Skinner said he immediately asked Saar, a minority shareholder, to leave the firm.

“It’s a sad development,” Skinner said, “but I have no choice in that situation other then to sever ties when I discovered impropriety.”

Skinner said he had an obligation to report Saar to the state Bar Association for alleged unethical conduct. He said Saar “improperly co-mingled” trust funds with his own.

Skinner said he could not comment on whether the police were notified about the allegations. Neither a detective with the Oak Harbor Police Department nor the county prosecutor were aware of the allegations or any investigation.

Hans Juhl, a Seattle attorney representing Saar, said the parties involved in litigation over the case reached an agreement, in principal, at the end of last week. Saar could not be reached for comment.

Clarke Harvey, a Clinton attorney, was named as the successor trustee to the Upton trust last summer after Saar was removed.

Harvey wrote an “accounting and report” as well as a “supplemental accounting and report” which detailed the short history of the trust, which is described as being worth about $320,000.

Harvey wrote that Saar deposited $42,000 from the trust into his own personal account.

Harvey said he discovered that the files from Saar didn’t include any information about the cash, so he asked Saar about it last fall. Saar said he forgot to mention it and later gave Harvey a cashier’s check for the money, the report states.

“In light of the new information that I have received, there are serious questions as to whether Mr. Saar has breached his obligation to the Trust, and the extent of any negligence or misconduct on his part,” Harvey wrote in his findings.

In addition, a motion filed by Langley attorney Carolyn Cliff, who is representing Upton’s son, Kevin Upton, states that Saar paid himself from the trust account nearly $68,000 over six months in fees for acting as the trustee. Cliff described the fees as “extraordinary,” especially since “the trust instrument expressly provided that the successor trustee was to serve without payment of any compensation.”

According to Cliff, Saar wrote amendments to Edwin Upton’s trust during the final three months of Upton’s life.

One of the amendments named Saar as successor trustee in place of one of his sons. Edwin Upton passed away on Jan. 11, 2012.

Cliff wrote in her report that foreclosure litigation was pending against Saar and his wife for a year before he assumed control of the Upton trust.

The foreclosure case involved Saar’s home and four different promissory obligations, “in principal amounts totaling over $950,000.”

 

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