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Farrell v. Farrell

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 3, 2019


          Appeal from the Order Entered September 13, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County Civil Division at No(s): No. 2015-1381-CD

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., NICHOLS, J., and COLINS, J. [*]


          NICHOLS, J.

         Appellant LaVieta Lerch, Esq., counsel for Amy Farrell (Ms. Farrell), appeals from the order of contempt directing Attorney Lerch to pay counsel fees to Lea Ann Heltzel, Esq., counsel for Thomas P. Farrell, Jr. (Mr. Farrell). Attorney Lerch claims that she was not in contempt of an order compelling discovery because the order was directed to Ms. Farrell and not Attorney Lerch. We affirm.

         We adopt the facts and procedural history set forth in the trial court's opinion.

This case was initiated by the filing of a divorce complaint on behalf of [Mr. Farrell] on September 9, 2015. [Mr. Farrell] is represented by [Attorney Heltzel. Ms. Farrell] proceeded pro se until October 30, 2017[, ] when Attorney . . . Lerch entered her appearance on behalf of [Ms. Farrell. Ms. Farrell] filed a praecipe for appointment of master on April 13 of 2018; thereafter, by order of April 16, 2018, Curtis Irwin, Esquire, was appointed master in divorce. Pre-trial conference with the master was set for May 14, 2018. The parties were to file the required pre-master's hearing documents within no more than 20 days from April 16, 2018. Master's hearing was scheduled for Friday, September 14, 2018[, ] by the Honorable Paul E. Cherry.
On August 2, 2018[, ] Attorney Heltzel filed a motion to compel. This motion indicates that on May 21, 2018[, ] she had made an informal request for production of documents from Attorney Lerch. Having heard and received nothing, follow-up correspondence was mailed on July 9, 2018. Still no response was made.

Trial Ct. Op., 1/18/19, at 1 (some capitalization omitted).

On August 3, 2018, the trial court issued the below order:
And now, this 3rd day of August, 2018 . . . it is ordered and decreed that the Defendant shall within twenty (20) days . . . produce all documents sought by way of Plaintiff's request for production of documents.

Order, 8/3/18 (some capitalization omitted).

         The parties do not dispute that Ms. Farrell, acting pro se, typed her answers to Mr. Farrell's requests for production of documents, attached a few documents, and sent them to Attorney Heltzel around August 13, 2018. Ex. D to Mr. Farrell's Mot. to Compel, 9/10/18; see N.T., 9/13/18, at 9. Ms. Farrell's pro se responses included multiple answers in which she expressed an unwillingness to disclose the requested information or documents. Ex. D to Mr. Farrell's Mot. to Compel, 9/10/18, at ¶ 1 ("forgive me on my reluctance to share complete information on such documentation"), ¶ 15 ("Sorry but I will not disclose this information it [sic] does not have any bearing on the court proceedings and is absolutely no one's business"). Several of her responses were "N/A" and others included personal attacks and other allegations against Mr. Farrell. See, e.g., id. at ¶ 13 (claiming Mr. Farrell had "attacked me in my home multiple times"), ¶ 15 (alleging Mr. Farrell committed insurance fraud), ¶ 16 (asserting Mr. Farrell had "public drunken rants").

         Following receipt of Ms. Farrell's pro se discovery responses, the following occurred:

On Monday, September 10, 2018[, Attorney Heltzel] filed a motion to compel, sanctions and attorney's fees[1] as well as a second pleading, being a motion for continuance. As Judge Paul E. Cherry was on vacation that week, [Mr. Farrell's] motions were given to [President Judge Fredric J. Ammerman] for disposition.

Trial Ct. Op. at 2 (some capitalization omitted).

         The trial court denied the motion for continuance and scheduled a hearing on Mr. Farrell's motion to compel, sanctions, and attorney's fees for September 13, 2018. Ms. Farrell filed an answer and also filed a motion to compel and for attorney's fees of $1, 500, each prepared by Attorney Lerch. The trial court also scheduled the hearing on Ms. Farrell's counseled motion for September 13, 2018. As noted above, the master's hearing was scheduled for the next day, September 14, 2018.

         At the September 13, 2018 hearing, the trial court addressed Mr. Farrell's motion to compel first. Attorney Heltzel indicated that she received additional documents that morning but that Ms. Farrell's response was still inadequate. N.T., 9/13/18, at 3. Attorney Heltzel identified the documents she still needed. Id.

         The trial court then inquired about Exhibit D that was attached to Mr. Farrell's motion to compel. Id. at 4. The following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: [E]xhibit D . . . is one page, and it has numbered paragraphs, and it appears to me that this was written specifically by [Ms. Farrell] and not by [Attorney Lerch]; is that correct?
ATTORNEY LERCH: That's correct. Those were the answers to the list of-24 [requests for production of documents] that [Attorney Heltzel] was requesting, which were provided-
THE COURT: So you just gave it to your client and asked her to write a response?
ATTORNEY LERCH: She wanted to write a response.
THE COURT: I consider this response to be extremely unprofessional, and I really can't believe that this is how you would respond to [Attorney Heltzel's] request. Is this how you practice law? This is unacceptable.
Now, the next thing we have is we have [Ms. Farrell's counseled] motion to compel and ...

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