The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

December 4, 2012

Judge calls Hartle letter ‘improper’

HERMITAGE — The Hermitage law firm of Lewis and Ristvey said a judge’s order in a request for a preliminary injunction is important for business owners, even though Senior Judge Fred P. Anthony did not give Lewis and Ristvey all that it sought.

Lewis and Ristvey in September sued former employee Carolyn E. Hartle after she set up a solo legal practice, Hartle Elder Law Practice, also of Hermitage.

Hartle improperly stole clients and solicited clients using Lewis and Ristvey resources, the suit claimed.

Hartle countersued, saying Lewis and Ristvey refused to turn over client files and interfered with her serving her clients.

In its request for preliminary injunction, Lewis and Ristvey asked that Hartle be prevented from communicating with any current or former Lewis and Ristvey clients or using any information she gained as a result of her employment. The injunction also sought to require her to list all clients she solicited for business and list all active cases she was primarily responsible for on behalf of Lewis and Ristvey.

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 argued the letters were proper and that a Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Responsibility requires attorneys leaving law firms and the law firms they left to notify clients of the change.

The rule “do(es) not impose a duty to solicit those clients,” Anthony said in his ruling filed in Mercer County Nov. 28.

The state Supreme Court has ruled that conduct that adversely affects “the informed decision making” of a client is “improper.”

“This court finds that (Hartle’s) letter was improper,” Anthony said.

Hartle sent letters to Lewis and Ristvey clients she was not currently representing, and that she did not play a “principal role” in representing, he said.

The letter “implies” a client should take “swift action” and provided a transfer form, he said.

“The letter taken as a whole may have misled some clients to believe that attorney Hartle was actively representing their legal matter,” Anthony said.

Anthony, however, did not grant the specific actions Lewis and Ristvey requested because clients have a right to choose their own attorney.

Some clients went to Lewis and Ristvey to retrieve their client files and delivered them to Hartle, Anthony added, and Lewis and Ristvey did not prove that Hartle used confidential information.

He ordered that all transfer forms be invalidated, except for those Hartle already has case files for or in the cases where clients notified Lewis and Ristvey by other means that they choose to be represented by Hartle.

Hartle must supply a list of the clients she solicited by the letter.

Both sides are required to send letters to clients informing them of Hartle’s departure and the options clients have, and that the former transfer letters have been invalidated, Anthony said.

Hartle’s letter must include a statement that her previous letter was invalid.

“Nothing in this order shall prevent any Lewis and Ristvey clients from selecting plaintiff or defendants as their counsel,” the judge said.

Hartle declined to comment on the ruling.

“This was an important and significant win at this early stage of the proceedings for us, but also for all other business owners as well,” Michael Ristvey, principal of the firm, said in a written statement. “Employers trust their employees and expect them to be loyal, and to act professional and according to the law and the judge found that attorney Hartle did not act professionally nor did she follow the law.”

The other lawsuit claims, including that Hartle misappropriated confidential information, interfered with client relationship and unfairly competed, continue.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Man deemed predator – for now

    A former Sharon man was sent to the state prison system Tuesday for corrupting the morals of a teenage girl, but the question of whether his penalties under Megan’s Law will stand could be subject to future legal proceedings.

    April 23, 2014

  • Not even waste will be wasted

    Tom Darby admits he wishes the startup of the anaerobic digestion process at the Hermitage Water Pollution Control Plant had moved along much faster.

    April 23, 2014

  • 3rd Earth Fest draws families to Penn State

    Penn State Shenango’s Earth Fest has become a spring tradition for area residents.
    Families poured into downtown Sharon for the campus’ third annual sustainability celebration.

    April 22, 2014

  • Amish clean Shenango River Volunteers protect Shenango River

    Shenango River Watchers has spent more than a decade working to clean up the Shenango and improve recreational access to its water and banks.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • For many, recycling’s become way of life

    When Pennsylvania mandated curbside recycling for its larger municipalities in 1998 – those with more than 5,000 people – there was grumbling about government interference in the lives of everyday people.

    April 22, 2014

  • Many items can’t be thrown away

    The computer screen in front of you isn’t likely to do you much harm, at least not until it’s tossed in a landfill where the lead-filled components start to leak and eventually find their way into your drinking water, according to Jerry Zona, director of the Lawrence-Mercer County Recycling/Solid Waste department.

    April 22, 2014

  • David Sykes' solar panels Earthworks

    While touring Germany last year, David Sykes spotted solar panels resting in a residential back yard.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Burned using Icy Hot, woman claims

    A Grove City woman has sued Chattem Inc. and Rite Aid of Pennsylvania Inc., alleging she suffered a second-degree chemical burn using one of Chattem’s Icy Hot pain relief products.

    April 21, 2014

  • Family outing Family friendly

    “We’re No. 5’’ isn’t a sports cheer you’ll hear any time soon.
    But considering the lumps the greater area has gotten over the years on economic rankings, it’s an outright victory.

    April 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • To demolish or not Tear it down? Fix it up?

    In 2007, Richard D. Givens bought a home at 831 Knobwood Drive in Hermitage for $245,000.
    Today, the city of Hermitage is seeking the demolition of the now-vacant house, arguing the damage from water infiltration makes the structure not worth saving.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • News briefs from April 19, 2014

    April 19, 2014

  • Man admits having child porn

    A Mercer man accused of soliciting and downloading photographs of nude teenage girls pleaded guilty April 8 to sexual abuse of children for possessing child pornography.

    April 19, 2014

  • Police getting new tool to fight crime

    Sharon police working at crime scenes will be putting a powerful new investigative tool to work as soon as next month.

    April 19, 2014

  • Soap box derby finds new home

    The Greater Pennsylvania Super Kids soap box derby for special-needs kids is moving to Sharpsville.

    April 19, 2014

  • News briefs from April 18, 2014

    ‘Nonspecific threat’ prompts evacuation

    Supreme Court refuses to hear couple’s appeal

    Lung Association offering free radon test kits

    April 18, 2014