We represented an appraiser in a suit brought by 18 investors claiming his appraisal firm caused them to lose more than a million dollars in a mortgage-paper security investment. The plaintiffs had invested in a $1.7M commercial loan by Chesterfield Mortgage Investors to Seattle attorney Michael Tomkins. Chesterfield was a hard money lender making loans to high-risk investors at high interest rates. The loan application stated attorney Tomkins was worth millions in real estate in South Carolina, but he wasn’t. Tomkins secured the loan with the property, where his law offices were located. Our client had appraised the property in April 2007, and Chesterfield included the appraisal as part of a registered securities offering. The plaintiffs made their investment near the top of the real estate market. After the market crashed, Chesterfield misappropriated investor funds, leading to his imprisonment. To recoup $1.5M in losses, the investors sued our client and Columbia Valuation Group — a firm that our client co-owned — for appraiser malpractice and the violation of The Washington State Securities Act and the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The case was out of position, when we took over shortly before trial. During discovery, investors failed to produce most records, failed to disclose the opinions of their experts, and claimed their investments were low risk. We used public record requests to obtain some of the missing records, which established that the investments were classified as high risk, disclosed appraisal risks and established other defenses. We impeached one of the investors using a YouTube interview, where she was described as the Queen of Seattle Real Estate. We successfully improvised: most of the plaintiffs had not been deposed and the court allowed plaintiffs to admit 15 exhibits without any testimony in their rebuttal case. Cases involving the state securities act are rarely tried, because the defendants are exposed to almost strict liability for return of the investment, interest and attorney’s fees. The CPA claims have a relatively low standard of proof, and in this case, the investors had evidence of a pattern since defendant CVG and our client had settled two prior suits brought by some of the same investors asserting similar claims. A further complication was that the individual who performed the work up on the appraisal was missing and the court had entered an order of default against that person.
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