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.

Text Only
Local News
  • Woman nabbed, sister sought in assault

    Southwest Mercer County Regional police have arrested a Hermitage woman for breaking into a home in Farrell and beating a woman and are seeking the alleged assailant’s sister.

    April 16, 2014

  • Despite good deeds, man going back to prison

    Linda K. Kretzer had nothing but praise for Raymond C. McKelvey.

    April 16, 2014

  • 15-year-old legal battle returning to county court

    State Supreme Court has let stand a Superior Court decision sending a landmark medical malpractice case back to Mercer County Common Pleas Court.

    April 16, 2014

  • Southwest mulls how to adopt study points

    Even though some members of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department had little respect for a study of the department completed by a consultant, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. pledged to implement as many of the study’s recommendations as he could.

    April 16, 2014

  • Beader plans to resign, just not yet

    Democratic Mercer County Commissioner Brian Beader acknowledges that he intends to resign, but said nothing will happen until after he meets privately with the county’s judges next Thursday.

    April 16, 2014

  • Wildlife fund for park Aiding Buhl Farm animals

    Some of Steven Jubelirer’s fondest memories of his mother, Natalie, was when they would walk together in Buhl Farm park, Hermitage.

    April 16, 2014 3 Photos

  • News briefs from April 15, 2014

    Man charged with attack on his wife in Walmart

    Woman arrested for stabbing man with knife

    3 injured in pickup-motorcycle crash

    April 15, 2014

  • Judge orders Marin removed from ballot

    Saying the testimony of Congressional candidate Mel Marin of Sharon wasn’t credible, the Commonwealth Court has ordered Marin’s name removed from the Democratic Party’s ballot for one of area’s congressional seats in the May primary because Marin now has less than the required 1,000 valid signatures.

    April 15, 2014

  • Fire ruled accident, but cause unknown

    The fire in Greenville-Reynolds Industrial Park was most likely started by workers who were gutting the building, according to a deputy fire marshal.

    April 15, 2014

  • Mertz Tower fire Mertz tenant charged with arson

    A tenant who was being evicted from her apartment because of bizarre behavior is accused of setting her sofa ablaze at Wade D. Mertz Towers in Sharpsville.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tickled reflexology and pedicure salon Crafting a new downtown

    We’ll know better five years from now what lasting impact public interest in the arts and boutique shopping had in efforts to revitalize downtown Sharon with small businesses.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Have van, need drivers to serve elderly

    April 14, 2014

  • Jim Raykie column photo Technology aside, constant has been serving community

    Wow ... I was thinking about The Herald’s 150th birthday during the weekend, and realized that I’m getting old – I’ve been here for more than a quarter of that century and a half.





    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • The Herald, 1941 Herald marks 150th year

    The Herald today, April 14, celebrates 150 years of serving area readers and advertisers.

    April 14, 2014 2 Photos

  • Attorneys preparing work for murder trial

    Emerging from his chambers after about two hours of meeting with attorneys in Ralph L. Young’s murder case, Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John thanked spectators for their patience in waiting for the public portion of the hearing.

    April 13, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
Sharonheraldnewspaper Facebook Page