Evictions lawyer used client trust funds to pay mortgage

The state bar found repeated misconduct by Brian Read, who practiced in Everett and represented landlords in rental disputes.

A Whidbey Island man who practiced law in Everett has been disbarred for taking thousands of dollars out of a client trust account to pay his mortgage and showing indifference in repaying the money, among other financial misconduct.

Brian Read, 45, of Freeland, mostly represented landlords in evictions and other landlord-tenant cases. He worked as an attorney in Washington state for nearly 20 years and, in 2020, he was outspoken about his opposition to the statewide eviction moratorium.

From 2015 to 2018, Read violated the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct by taking money from his client trust account at Chase Bank for personal use, according to his notice of disbarment released last week by the state bar association. A lawyer must maintain a trust account when holding money on behalf of clients or third parties, to ensure the trust is separate from the lawyer’s personal finances.

In those three years, Read withdrew more money from the client trust account than he deposited into it. The bar found he did not keep records required for the account, and when he did, they were often incorrect.

On July 2, 2018, Read tried to make a $300 transfer from the client trust account to his business account. The transfer was cancelled by the bank due to insufficient funds. Under state law, lawyers must report any client trust account overdrafts and provide an explanation to the Washington State Bar Association. Read did not.

Instead, he began depositing his own money into the account to replenish the funds. He didn’t do it quickly enough, and as of Dec. 11, 2018, the account was $12,000 in the red.

On July 12, 2018, the state Bar Association’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel sent Read a letter requesting an explanation for the overdraft, a statement about how it was corrected and records for the client trust account dating back two months.

Read requested an extension until Aug. 31, 2018. He missed the deadline.

In October 2018, the state bar served a subpoena on Read, requiring him to appear at a deposition. That month, Read hired another lawyer to reconstruct records for the client trust account.

At his deposition, Read reportedly told disciplinary personnel he felt “burdened by the demands of (his) law practice and family life,” and that his situation caused the financial misconduct.

He reportedly added that he was stressed, and the stress was exacerbated by marital problems and financial difficulties, according to court documents.

The state bar’s disciplinary board noted aggravating factors in the decision to disbar Read: a pattern of misconduct, multiple offenses and an “indifference” to paying restitution.

Read was required to pay back thousands of dollars to the clients, though the exact amount still owed was kept confidential in the disciplinary paperwork.

The attorney had no prior record of misconduct.

Before his disbarment, Read went public with his opposition to the statewide eviction moratorium, talking to reporters from KING 5 and making posts on his law firm’s Facebook page.

The moratorium, he said, turned landlords into “economic hostages.”

On Read’s website, an information page said, “Brian appreciates and respects that for landlords, owning rental property is part of their ‘American Dream.’ Brian is proud to be a knowledgeable, affordable resource for property owners and managers looking to protect and maximize their returns.”

Court records show Read was still practicing law last month, weeks before his disbarment took effect in late June.

Reached by phone, Read declined to comment to a reporter. His law firm’s website was taken down shortly after the bar sent out a notice he could no longer practice.