Law Firms

Appeals court blocks lawyer's contempt arrest for failing to return law firm files

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handcuffs and gavel

A Missouri appeals court has temporarily blocked the arrest of a St. Louis lawyer who was found in contempt of court in a records dispute with her former law firm and ordered to spend two days in jail.

The appeals court order acted on Monday in the contempt case against lawyer Chelsea Merta, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. A St. Louis County judge had held Merta in contempt on July 10 for failing to follow court orders to return electronic files to her former law firm, the Stange Law Firm.

The law firm had claimed in a lawsuit that Merta took the files while she was secretly planning to create her own law firm. She submitted her resignation from the Stange Law Firm in February 2018 and “began aggressively soliciting clients” to transfer their cases to her, the law firm said.

Judge Kristine Kerr had held Merta in contempt once before, in January. In her July 10 decision, Kerr said that Merta “is in flagrant and blatant contempt of this court’s judgments and orders for her willful and contumacious refusal to comply with the judgments of this court.”

Kerr cited “overwhelming and undisputed evidence” that Merta accessed electronic client and proprietary firm files, including files for clients she did not represent and never had represented. Kerr also said Merta appeared to be transferring the electronic files to a cloud storage account for the purpose of hiding them after the second contempt motion was filed.

The appeals court’s temporary order gives Kerr until July 25 to respond to Merta’s appellate petition.

Merta noted the appeal in an interview with the Post-Dispatch and denied the allegations.

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