The Importance of Putting it in Writing

One of the most common causes of legal disputes is the failure to get an agreement, however small, in writing. Today, on the Cornerstone Law Blog, we want to tackle why it is so important to put your thoughts in writing when you and a friend or business associate are agreeing to a contract.

To begin with, it’s important to note that agreements are typically binding even if they are not in writing. Contrary to popular belief, most oral agreements are legally enforceable — if you can prove them (although there are exceptions, such as when dealing with land, with contracts for goods over a certain price, and in certain industries such as home improvement).

So why is it important to get your agreement in writing if it can be enforced even without a written document?

Why get it in writing?

  1. The most important reason is it is hard to prove what an oral agreement was for.

    Unscrupulous parties can lie about what was agreed to, and even when everyone is being honest, people’s memories tend to fade surprisingly quickly. Relying on someone else’s memory to agree with your own is a recipe for disaster in enforcing your contracts.

  2. Misunderstandings are harder to smoke out and deal with when a contract is not written down.

    It may sound funny, but there have been many lawsuits litigated over something as simple as the meaning of “here.” If someone agreed to bring a product “here,” where is “here?” If the agreement was made over the phone, one person may have assumed that “here” meant someone’s home, when in fact they meant their business some many miles away.
    Sometimes this type of disagreement can be cleared up easily, but in other cases it can be a mistake that can cost substantial sums of money.

    The point is this: without putting something in writing and taking the time to clarify simple points of misunderstanding, you can end up in a contract dispute that neither party brought about by their malice or ill will.

  3. It helps you to think about things that you weren’t really considering when you first made the contract.

    If two people get together and agree orally to a “handshake deal,” they may not be thinking about questions such as, “What happens if a pandemic shuts down the world and one side can’t deliver the product because the government won’t allow it?”

    And what happens if there is a good-faith dispute over the contract? Do the two of you first have to go and deal with it in front of a board of arbiters, or do you got straight to court? And which court? Where can you be sued? What do you do if a labor shortage or a war in another country suddenly makes it impossible to get the raw materials necessary to produce the product you’ve ordered? 

There are hundreds of potential questions that a good transactional lawyer can help you to work your way through. Even without the involvement of a lawyer, there are things you may think of as you put the agreement in writing that will help you to confront potential misunderstanding and disagreements that will cause problems down the road. 

How can you put it in writing without being overly difficult?

Sometimes business owners in particular are concerned that continually putting contracts in front of their clients or customers will cause them concern and will scare them off of working with them further. In most cases, this concern is not well-founded.

Most customers understand and even appreciate the time that you will take to put things in writing. But if they don’t or if you are concerned that the time necessary to reach a written agreement will make it difficult for you to continually get new contracts drafted, one approach is simply to put everything into an email or even a text message.

Once again, putting everything in writing will help you to confront disagreements that may arise between you and the other party. In most cases, it is best practice is to say, “Are you in agreement with all of these things?” at the end of the email (or something to that effect). Getting them to respond back will in many cases create a binding written contract between you two. 

Note: this article is not meant as legal advice.

There are specialized areas of law where a simple email or text message is not sufficient. It’s important that you talk to a lawyer about your specific concerns. But in the meantime, we hope that the tips in this article will help you in your day to day business and personal affairs to ensure that your contractual agreements are being memorialized in writing.

For help in drafting or reviewing contracts, contact Cornerstone Law Firm today.

Aggravated Assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania

Aggravated assault is one of the most serious charges you can face in Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has held that proving aggravated assault requires the government to demonstrate the mental intent to cause serious bodily injury or to use a deadly weapon in such a way as to show an intent to injure someone. In other cases, aggravated assault can be charged where there is an assault on certain protected classes of individuals including police officers. 

So, if you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County, Pennsylvania, what steps should you take to preserve your innocence? Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Immediate Preservation of Evidence is Crucial

One thing that many people forget when they’re charged with a crime is that they should immediately begin preserving evidence that might help to demonstrate their innocence. This includes:

  • Reaching out to companies who may have surveillance footage of what happened, including the lead up to a fight. Other videos and content may exist, too.

  • You should think about whether the Facebook messages of your friends might contain DMs or other information from the alleged victim of a crime that would demonstrate that they were the ones that were threatening or instigating violence.

Working with a criminal defense attorney can help you think of ways to demonstrate your innocence and can help you to move quickly to ensure that this type of evidence is not lost. Many businesses overwrite their security footage every 15 or 30 days, so it is important to move quickly if you believe this type of evidence may exist. 

Don’t Make it Easy to Prove Your Mental Intent

One mistake that many individuals make when they’re charged with an assault is to go online, make bold statements and criticize the person who has accused them of the crime. While this sort of frustration is understandable, anything you say can be used against you.

In some cases, angry statements can help the government to show your mental intent and the anger you have toward the alleged victim. This information really shouldn’t be admitted into court in most cases, but it creates another hurdle that your legal team has to get over in order to preserve your innocence in an aggravated assault case. 

Don’t Talk to the Police

Finally and most importantly, in an aggravated assault case you should not speak to the police without first speaking to your attorney. You have an absolute right to be represented by an attorney, even during the investigative phase of an aggravated assault case. If a police agency in Berks County wants to speak with you, they can go through your attorney.

The rule about not speaking to police is true even when you are innocent! It is important that you speak to counsel before making decisions about whether to make a statement to the police of not. 

Conclusion: Talk to an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney Today

If you have been charged with aggravated assault in Berks County Pennsylvania or anywhere in Pennsylvania, it is important for you to speak to an attorney.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we can help you make decisions about your criminal case and how to handle your charges. Call us today for a consultation.

Retraction in Defamation Cases

One of the legal principles that is most familiar to the American public is that of defamation of character. Popularized through television, movies and some of the most sensational news stories covering legal events, libel and slander cases hold the fascination of the public. One major element to defamation cases is the doctrine of retraction.

What is Retraction?

Retraction is simply the “taking back” of what you have said about someone else. This happens frequently in newspapers, where the editor admits an error and retracts the statement. Frequently, this retraction is topped off by some sort of statement like “the post regrets the error.” Why did they do this?

These sorts of retractions are often done for journalistic integrity, but more importantly they are done to avoid libel suits. A libel suit is a suit for written defamation as opposed to slander which is spoken defamation. When a newspaper, a blog or any other written outlet believes they may be sued, one way they can “mitigate the damages” is by publishing a retraction. In the old days, it was required that someone who wanted to sue over defamation had to send a demand for retraction before instituting suit. This is no longer the case in Pennsylvania, but demanding retraction still makes sense, even for the plaintiff.

Why Demand a Retraction?

The main reason is that a demand for a retraction, if ignored or refused, helps to prove one of the hardest elements of a defamation case — the malice of the speaker. A defamation case requires proving more than that a person said something false.

It requires proof that:

  • The statement was false
  • It is damaging to one’s character
  • It was intentional

Accordingly, sending a demand for retraction is a way of eliminating a writer’s claim that they were mistaken about the facts that they reported, rather than intentionally lying. 

Surprisingly, this approach can still work even in the day of modern publishers when many of the individuals that someone might be wishing to pursue for defamation are either private parties or small-time publishers. A demand for a retraction provides an opportunity to frame the issue clearly before it is brought into court. And of course, in the event that they agree to retract, in many cases, the damage can be mitigated or undone.

If you believe you have been defamed by someone else or you have been accused of defamation, contact Cornerstone Law Firm so we can help you to figure out your next steps.

Attorney Crossett Wins Landlord Tenant Trial in Dauphin County

This month, Attorney Crossett successfully prosecuted a landlord tenant case in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania and finalized the eviction of a tenant who had refused to pay rent and threatened other tenants. Because every county has their own rules regarding how a trial for a landlord tenant matter is conducted, this trial was done in front of a jury.  

Landlord tenant cases have become more complicated here in Pennsylvania due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and Governor Wolf’s orders prohibiting evictions during the summer. This order did not apply to those evictions which had begun before the COVID-19 pandemic which includes cases such as this one. However, for cases which have arisen since that time, the road remains complicated.

“We pride ourselves on being able to help clients walk through the various state and federal regulations surrounding evictions during the pandemic,” said David Crossett, who represents a number of landlords of various sizes.

Contact Us

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help clients dealing with landlord tenant issues every day. We have helped tenants who are being wrongfully evicted and landlords who needed to evict someone who is a danger to other tenants. If you have questions about your landlord tenant situation, call us today so that we can help you figure out the solution to your problems.

Resisting Arrest and Contraband Drug Charges Dismissed in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania

This summer, Cornerstone Law Firm’s Joel Ready successfully obtained the dismissal of contraband drug charges, terroristic threats, and resisting arrest charges for a client in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania after habeas corpus proceedings. 

Part of the charges were based on a claim that the individual involved had fought with an officer while he was being arrested. But Attorney Ready was able to demonstrate that the arrest was unlawful to begin with, and so the charges were dismissed. The rest of the charges were based on a claim that the defendant had intentionally taken drugs into the Schuylkill County prison in Pottsville, Pennsylvania.

Despite allegedly having eye-witness testimony to the defense possession of the drugs, the Commonwealth was forced to withdraw the charges this week after Cornerstone Law’s team demonstrated that there were someone else’s fingerprints on the drugs. These revelations came as a result of a discovery motion made by Attorney Ready as part of an Omnibus Pretrial Motion.

“This case illustrates the importance of defendants being willing to fight for their rights and challenge charges rather than simply taking the best plea deal available,” attorney Ready explained. 

Contact Us

Every case is different, and good results for one person don’t necessarily mean good results in your case. However, if you’re facing criminal charges in Schuylkill County or elsewhere in Pennsylvania, contact Cornerstone Law Firm to speak with a criminal defense attorney about how to deal with your case.

 

 

 

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions on the First Amendment

In previous posts, we have discussed the importance of the First Amendment. We have also discussed that speech is not always just speech — it can also be conduct. Today, we are going to talk about legitimate government restrictions on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. One such restriction established in case law decided by the Supreme Court of the United States is restrictions on time, place and manner of speech.

What is a “Time, Place & Manner” Restriction?

Time, place and manner restrictions include regulations of when, where and how someone speaks. For example, a school may tell its students that they may not discuss politics during class. A state court may require that no one say anything at all in a court room unless they are an attorney or a witness on the stand. Some government buildings prohibit any sort of protest or speech within the buildings themselves, allowing the government workers to work unimpeded by any sort of disruptions around them. (For example, you can’t march into Fort Knox and demand the right to protest.) These are all examples of time, place and manner restrictions. 

There are a few requirements to sustain a time, place and manner restriction in court. If challenged, the government entity must be able to show that these restrictions are “narrowly tailored” to achieve a “significant governmental interest.” For example, the school district that says that its students may not engage in any political speech at all during the entire school day, whether in or out of classes because it is worried about distractions in the classroom, is probably guilty of an overboard restriction that would not be sustained by a court. The goal of a good education may be a significant government interest, but there are less restrict ways to achieve that goal. The school might be able to require that students not talk while in certain types of classes that have nothing to do with politics, for example, while leaving them free to discuss their views throughout the rest of the day. 

“Content Neutral” Restrictions

restrictions to the first amendment

Another important point is that a restriction must be applied equally across the board and must be “content neutral.” In other words, a school that says that students may not talk about religion during specific classes but allows discussion of any other sort of philosophy or politics is violating the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Similarly, if a courtroom was to say that no one can protest out in front of the court, but then allows specific demonstrations for increased government salaries inside, this would be an example of discrimination against speech based on content. In these cases, the supposed time, place and manner restriction is just an illegal attempt by the government to restrict speech that it does not find appealing. 

What Do You Do if Your Rights are Violated?

What do you do if your rights are violated by a time, place, and manner restriction? There are various types of civil rights lawsuits available to you. Figuring out whether a time, place and manner restriction is an appropriate restriction of speech is a complicated process and requires careful analysis of the challenged regulation, the case law that has been decided on these topics, and sometimes even what you desire to say. In future blog posts on this topic, we are going to cover other restrictions on the First Amendment that the government may pass.

If you’re dealing with an infringement on your First Amendment rights, call us today to discuss your case.

Motorcycle Injury: What to Do When You Have Been Injured in Berks County, Pennsylvania

When you have been injured in a motorcycle crash, the injuries can be catastrophic. Every serious rider knows that no matter how safe you are, and no matter carefully you abide by the rules of the road and accepted safety practices, the risk of injury is an ever present danger. When you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, what are your first steps and what should you do?

1. Submit Your Medical Bills to Your Motorcycle Insurance.

This first step often confuses people. It is important that you submit your medical bills directly to your own motorcycle insurance carrier. This step in the process often surprises the victims of accidents, because it seems like the other party should be paying the medical bills. Don’t worry! We will get to that later.

However, when you are first injured, your insurance provides you with something called PIP coverage (Personal Injury Protection). This coverage is designed to make sure that you can immediately get medical treatment right after an accident without having any money spent out of pocket. State law requires you to have at least $5,000 in PIP coverage, and you have been paying for it as part of your insurance, so there is no reason not to use it now when you need it. By opening a claim and having your medical bills submitted straight to your motorcycle insurance carrier, you will (hopefully) avoid racking up medical expenses at the beginning of this process. 

2. Get Treatment!

If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, this next tip may not be that difficult to abide by. Nonetheless, it is extremely important that you get medical treatment for all of your injuries. There is no point in being tough about any sort of vehicle accident. Your injuries will not just get better on their own in most cases. This is particularly true of unseen injuries, such as torn ligaments and traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

The danger of concussions is only now becoming a matter of general awareness, largely due to the news surrounding the National Football League and other professional sports. If you have been diagnosed with a concussion or are experiencing the effects of an impact to your head, which is not uncommon after a motorcycle accident, it is extremely important that you see a doctor, a specialist and anyone to whom they refer you. 

You may have to live with the effects of a traumatic brain injury for much of the rest of your life. Accordingly, the medical records demonstrating such an injury are an important part of demonstrating the severity of your claim and your entitlement to an appropriate financial settlement with the insurance companies. 

3. Call A Personal Injury Attorney to Handle Your Motorcycle Accident

Finally, it is extremely important that you talk to a personal injury attorney right away after your motorcycle accident. It does not matter if you know the full extent of your injuries. You can still talk to a personal injury attorney about your case. At Cornerstone Law Firm, your consultation is free, and we do not get paid until you get paid. We’re here to help, so call us today.

Contract Cases in Federal Court

When your business is sued in federal court, it can be a strange and surprising experience. A common question that we receive from business owners is, “How can my business be sued in federal court over a contract? Isn’t federal court just for crimes and serious litigation?”

How it Works

In most cases, federal cases over contracts are brought because one party is from a different state than the opposing party and there is more than $75,000 in damages that are at issue in the lawsuit. In other words, your first instinct might be right: a contract case only enters the federal court because it is a pretty big deal. 

Beyond this, contract cases in federal court are much different than contract cases in state court. A breach of contract action requires that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) demonstrate that the defendant violated the terms of an agreement. This agreement doesn’t have to necessarily be written (although it usually is when there is a lot of money at stake). 

Several defenses to contract actions exist, including proof that the contract was impossible to perform or that the plaintiff violated the contract first. In rare cases, the contract itself might violate state or federal law, which means it cannot be enforced in court.

More About Federal Court Cases

Cases in federal court should be taken seriously because they tend to move quickly. This is especially true of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, often referred to as “the rocket docket” because of the speed with which the cases move to trial. In other words, if you are not preparing from day one, you are not going to be ready by the time the case gets to the summary judgement phase and to trial. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

If you or your business has been sued in federal court, it is important to seek litigation attorneys who can handle your case. Contact the Cornerstone Law Firm and speak with our experienced federal litigators to discuss your options in moving forward and how you can best defend your case.

Harassment Charges in Berks County Dismissed – March 2020

Last month, Attorney Joel Ready obtained dismissal of harassment charges in Berks County. The charges had been filed against a defendant over an alleged dispute with an ex-girlfriend. After oral argument in front of a Berks County Magisterial District Judge, the charges were dropped completely. The charges were filed in the Bernville area “upon information received” by a State Trooper, which means that the Trooper was filing the charges based on what the alleged victim told him. 

“We’re glad to see these charges dismissed,” Attorney Ready says. “This case shows, once again, the importance of being prepared to fight charges and not merely plead guilty to avoid the trouble of litigation.” 

More About Harassment Charges

Harassment is a summary offense under Pennsylvania Law, which means that it comes with a fine and potential confinement up to ninety (90) days in prison. In some circumstances, harassment charges can also result in higher penalties, including a misdemeanor conviction. Harassment requires that the Commonwealth prove that the defendant either physically assaulted or repeatedly annoyed someone with no legitimate purpose.

Harassment charges do go on your permanent record, although, if they are a summary offense it is not considered a “criminal record.” Nonetheless, potential employers, family members, friends, neighbors and others can find that you were found guilty of these charges if you plead guilty to them.

Contact Us Today

It is important to speak with an experienced criminal offense attorney about harassment charges so the attorney can help you decide whether you should challenge the charges or not. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today for more information.

Right of Partition

When you own land with someone else and you stop getting along with that person, what can you do? Especially when someone owns a large piece of investment property with someone else, it can be very difficult to figure out how to work with someone who doesn’t want to spend the money to keep the property up or who doesn’t have the same vision as you do for the future of the property. Here are two ways that you can handle a real estate dispute with a co-owner:

1. A Written Agreement Between the Parties

The most obvious and best way of approaching a problem like this is a written agreement with your co-owner that clearly lays out the responsibilities of each party. Whether the property is making money or not, a written agreement can help to clarify how much money each party is required to put into the property and how profits will be split up. 

You might think that a 50/50 agreement is the simplest way to handle something like this but often, it’s not. Perhaps one party is willing to make the financial investment into the property to clean it up or improve it, but expects a higher percentage of the returns in exchange. And what do you do if one party wants out during an up year for the property? How much do you have to pay them? Can one owner force the other to take a fair buy-out offer?

Drafting a clear agreement means thinking about possibilities that you may not want to consider, but in our experience, figuring this out now will save you pain and money down the line. Indeed, just having an agreement sometimes helps avoid breakups and keeps all parties involved happy with the investment that they’re making in the property.

2. A Partition Action

Unfortunately, many parties don’t start talking about these issues until a conflict has already arisen. If you’re in this boat, don’t panic! There is still a legal way to get out of the situation. In this case, you can either divide the property in two, or have a court order that it be sold and have the profits of the sale split between the owners.

How do you split a property in two? You can do this by reviewing the technical drawings for the buildings or property and agreeing to a line drawn through the property along an appropriate dividing line. In some cases, the parties can agree to give a valuable but small piece to one side and leave a larger but equally valuable piece to the other party. This process typically involves lawyers, appraisers, real estate agents, and brokers to find the proper balance.

But in many cases, the best remedy is for the parties to agree to sell the property. But what if the other party doesn’t want to sell? What if they think that the status quo is working out just fine? Or, what if vindictively, they just want to keep you from benefiting from the property?

In that case, you can petition a court for an order to sell the property in lieu of having it partitioned. In other words, if you prevail in proving that the property is not going to be usable or valuable if it’s split in two, you can have a court order the property sold the open market. At that point, they’ll usually come to the negotiating table. If they want to keep the property, they’ll have to put up fair market value for your half.

Trust an Experienced Real Estate Attorney with Your Concerns

If you have a problem like this with real estate, you should contact an experienced real estate attorney. Partition actions can be complicated, and there are many issues to consider. If you have questions about your situation, contact Cornerstone Law Firm, and let’s discuss how we can help you.