A state appeals panel Monday reversed a lower court’s order that the trustee who is liquidating assets from Frederick Darren Berg’s Ponzi scheme at Meridian Mortgage should pay $74,000 to the Moss Adams accounting firm.
The ruling said King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer’s July 2012 order for damages was flawed because the trustee, Mark Calvert, had already asked for his state-court lawsuit against Moss Adams to be dropped.
The three-judge appellate panel said it was improper for Shaffer to consider Moss Adams’s request for sanctions against Calvert and his lawyer, Michael Avenatti, before allowing the lawsuit to be withdrawn.
Steven Fogg, an attorney for Moss Adams, had no comment on the ruling.
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Calvert, representing about 600 individual investors whose losses totaled more than $100 million, sued Moss Adams in 2011, contending it failed to meet professional standards in its audits of several Meridian funds.
Moss Adams, the largest CPA firm based in the Pacific Northwest, audited some of Meridian Mortgage’s dozen real-estate-investment funds in some years, and it did Berg’s personal taxes as well.
The suit was initially filed in King County Superior Court, where the judge agreed with Moss Adams that the trustee should identify which investor relied on which audit before proceeding with litigation. Calvert did not submit that information and Moss Adams sought various sanctions.
While considering the trustee’s request to withdraw the lawsuit so he could refile it in federal court, Shaffer imposed the $74,000 penalty.
After Calvert’s suit was refiled in federal court, where the Meridian bankruptcy case has been handled, bankruptcy court judge Karen Overstreet in August 2012 dismissed the suit, writing that “the Trustee’s actions with regard to the State Court Action support Moss Adams’ contention that his filing of the action in this Court was for the purpose of forum shopping.”
In the bankruptcy action, which is separate, Overstreet has ruled that Moss Adams should pay the trustee $180,000 for not fully complying with a subpoena for documents from Meridian Mortgage and Berg, its founder.