The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Business

September 29, 2012

Law firm sues associate who left for solo gig

HERMITAGE — A Hermitage law firm has sued a former associate lawyer who recently struck out on her own.

Lewis and Ristvey, 689 N. Hermitage Road, filed an eight-count complaint this week in Mercer County Common Pleas Court against Carolyn E. Hartle, alleging she improperly stole clients and solicited clients using Lewis and Ristvey resources.

“Several hundred clients of (Lewis and Ristvey), as a result of (Hartle’s) wrongful conduct ... have executed letters purporting to terminate the relationship with (Lewis and Ristvey) and establish same with (Hartle),” the suit says.

Hartle said Friday she would not comment on the suit at this time. She will have an opportunity to file a formal answer to the suit.

In a letter attached to the lawsuit that is signed by Hartle under Hartle Elder Law Practice letterhead and dated Aug. 31, Hartle said she will be leaving Lewis and Ristvey on Sept. 17 to commence a solo practice with “My two paralegals, who have been with me for years.”

Her new office is at 1621 Dutch Lane, Hermitage, she said.

Hartle’s employment with Lewis and Ristvey ended Sept. 7, according to the suit.

She incorporated Hartle Elder Law Practice on July 30 and leased office space at about that time, but did not disclose her intent to start a competing law firm, even when asked on two occasions prior to Aug. 27, the suit says.

While still employed by Lewis and Ristvey, Hartle sent out several hundred letters to current and former Lewis and Ristvey clients informing them of her solo practice and giving them the opportunity to transfer their representation to her, including clients with no active cases and those she had not dealt with previously or had little contact with, the suit said.

Hartle “attempted to induce” Lewis and Ristvey clients to leave them and be served by her firm, the suit said.

She also contacted clients and “made false and/or misleading statements with regard to the relationship between (Lewis and Ristvey) and (Hartle) to effectuate transfer of clients,” the suit said.

Hartle’s letter offers clients the opportunity to continue their relationship with her, to stay with the Lewis and Ristvey firm or to find new representation.

Some Lewis and Ristvey clients who signed transfer letters she provided to them “have relayed ... they were confused, misled and/or coerced into executing the transfer forms, do not wish to have their files transferred to (Hartle) ... or to establish a new attorney/client contractual relationship with (Hartle),” the suit said.

The suit asks that Hartle be prevented from contacting any present or former Lewis and Ristvey clients, including those who signed the forms; retain any information she “gained as a result of related to employment with” Lewis and Ristvey; and be assessed compensatory and exemplary damages.

Hartle had been with Lewis and Ristvey since 2002, previously working for what is now Ekker, Kuster, McConnell and Epstein, Sharon.

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