A DuBois attorney was found in contempt of court for allowing her client to respond to a motion in divorce court.
LaVieta Lerch of DuBois was representing a woman in a divorce case when on Aug. 3. 2018 Judge Paul Cherry ordered her client to turn over all documents sought by the husband’s attorney.
Instead of submitting a response herself, Lerch let her client respond to the request, pro se, or on her own.
In her response the wife refused to disclose the requested information or documents giving responses such as, “It does not have any bearing on court proceedings and is absolutely no one’s business.”
She also made personal attacks and allegations against her husband.
Attorney Lea Ann Heltzel, who represented the husband, then filed a motion to compel and asked for sanctions and attorney’s fees.
A hearing was scheduled for Sept. 13, 2018 before President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman to hear the motion, as Cherry was on vacation.
At the Sept. 13 hearing Heltzel said she received additional documents that morning but they were inadequate and identified the documents she needed.
Heltzel also produced Lerch’s client pro se response to her Aug. 3 motion.
Lerch admitted her client had filed the response saying her client wanted to write a response.
“I find this response to be extremely unprofessional, and I really can’t believe that this is how you would respond to (Heltzel’s) request. Is this how you practice law? This is unprofessional,” Ammerman said.
Ammerman then ruled that Lerch was in contempt of court and ordered her to pay attorney fees of $1,500, which he later lowered to $900.
Lerch filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging Ammerman holding her in contempt of court but didn’t challenge the attorney fees. Lerch claimed a party’s counsel should not be held personnally responsible for obtaining documents from their client.
On Sept. 3, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld Ammerman’s ruling.
Superior Judge Carolyn Nichols wrote the opinion for the court.
“Regardless, the trial court acted within its authority to sanction counsel under Rule 4019,” Nichols wrote. “With respect to Attorney Lerch’s argument that counsel can never be personally responsible for obtaining documents from her client, we disagree.”
The three judge panel also included The Honorable John T. Bender and The Honorable James G. Colins.