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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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

February 2020 Recap

What were we up to in February 2020? Our attorneys have been working hard at settling cases and resolving conflicts on behalf of our clients. 

Attorney David Crossett

Attorney David Crossett has been working on a number of personal injury cases in Berk’s County, Pennsylvania. He is helping victims involved in car accidents to receive repayment of their medical bills, lost wages and compensation for their pain and suffering. Most of the personal injury cases he has worked on this month have been cases that are preparing settle based on a demand with the insurance company outside of court. Attorney Crossett also made national news last month, in this case representing Gerald Groff, a U.S. postal worker who is suing his former employer for violations of his first amendment rights. Attorney Crossett has also been deeply involved in a lawsuit in Bucks County over an insurance company refusing to pay for the enormous damage done to someone’s property when a truck ran into their house. 

Attorney Joel Ready

Attorney Joel Ready has resolved several criminal cases with favorable plea deals and another criminal case after a trial in front of a judge in Reading, Pennsylvania. Attorney Ready has also been advising one of our Section 8 Housing clients regarding complaints they’ve received about their facility. Finally, Attorney Ready has successfully settled a personal injury claim for an individual who was injured in a car accident located in the Reading area. 

That’s a quick glimpse at our work in the month of February. We hope you’ve had a great month as well. As always if you have questions about your legal concerns call us at Cornerstone Law Firm.

Criminal Trial Attorneys in Berks County

If you are facing criminal charges in Berks County, Pennsylvania, you will find yourself facing several very important questions as you strategize how to handle your case. The chief among all these questions is whether you should go forward to a trial on your charges or accept a plea deal. If you decide to go to trial, finding a good trial attorney will be vital.

Why a Trial Lawyer is Important

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys have experience at all stages of trial work and stand ready and willing to take your case all the way to trial. Whether to go to trial on criminal charges is an important and personal decision and depends on many factors. Getting good advice on whether you should go forward to trial rather than taking a deal that has been offered is an important part of this process.

A good trial attorney is willing to cross-examine the government’s witnesses, will effectively present your case in a way that is understandable to the jury, and can help you make the all-important decision on whether to testify or not. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys can help you with these questions. 

Contact Cornerstone Law Firm

Whether you are in the midst of criminal charges or are at the beginning of a criminal case, we welcome your call to discuss your charges. Your first consultation with us is free and totally confidential. Call us today and see how we can help you.

Injunctions for Breach of Contract

Contracts are formed when two or more parties reach an agreement that involves an exchange of promises. When one party breaks their promise and fails to reform their obligation on their contract the other party to the contract often asks, “Can I seek an injunction requiring the other party to perform?”

Injunctions Court Orders Requiring Performance

An injunction is a court order that requires someone to refrain from doing something you don’t want them to do or requires them to do something that you want them to do. We’ve discussed injunctions elsewhere on the blog. However, it is important to know that injunctions are typically very difficult to get in contract cases, even in fairly extreme situations. Injunctions require an irreparable harm (that is, something other than monetary damages).

In other words, you have to be able to show a court that if the court doesn’t act, you will suffer damages that can’t be adequately compensated by money. In most situations involving a breach of contract, that is not possible. Rather, if a party breaks their promise, they can pay you the damages that theirs breach has caused you.

Damages

There are several different ways that you can measure how you have been financially damaged by someone’s failure to perform their agreement under a contract. The bottom line is the court will seek to place you in a position where you are made whole and put in the same position that you would have been in had the contract been performed. However, this doesn’t typically include repayment of your legal fees, the costs and frustration of finding a replacement party to perform the contract for you, nor anything for the sense of moral outrage that people often feel when a promise to perform under a contract is broken.

Conclusion

You may not be able to obtain an injunction regarding your contract, but this doesn’t mean that you should ignore the problem or not pursue it in court. Legal action regarding a breach of contract will often jolt the other party into action. At the very least, it will allow you to recover the damages you’ve incurred as a result of what’s happened.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our litigation attorneys can help you analyze your case. Call today to discuss your situation and let us know how we can help you. 

“I’ve been Charged with a Crime in Union County. What Now?”

If you’ve been charged with a crime in Union County, Pennsylvania and you’re wondering what happens next in the process, you’ve come to the right place. The responsibility of filing charges in Union County, Pennsylvania falls to local police departments as well as the Pennsylvania State Police who have jurisdiction to file charges. But ultimately the responsibility of proceeding with those charges belongs to the District Attorney for Union County, Pete Johnson.

Here’s the process that you will encounter if you’ve been charged with a crime.

Preliminary Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing

union county court

We’ve written before about preliminary arraignments and preliminary hearings in criminal cases. Union County’s process is not different in that the preliminary arraignment and preliminary hearing are the defendant’s first opportunity to hear the charges against him or her and to hear the evidence that the Commonwealth has to prove the crime.

The bar for the Commonwealth to prove their case in a preliminary hearing is very low. The Commonwealth need only prove that they have probable cause for bringing the charges. If they’re able to prove that, then the charges move forward to more serious stages of criminal litigation.

Omnibus Pretrial Motion

Assuming the Commonwealth is able to meet its burden and move past the preliminary hearing, the next stage in the process is for the defendant if they wish to request discovery and file an omnibus pretrial motion. This motion allows the defendant to challenge the charges against them and to have them assessed at a much higher standard that is construed against the Commonwealth.

If the Commonwealth will be unable to meet its burden, the charges will be dismissed. Omnibus pretrial motions are a unique opportunity for criminal defendants to bring a motion to suppress evidence or to bring a habeas corpus motion to have the charges dismissed entirely.

Disposition and Trial

Most cases in Union County, Pennsylvania are resolved at a disposition hearing long before trial. This is an opportunity to reach a plea agreement with the Commonwealth, enter into a diversionary program such as ARD (accelerated rehabilitative disposition) or to reach some other arrangement. Disposition hearings are typically where an experienced attorney will have worked out the best deal possible for a client.

However, many criminal defendants don’t wish to plead guilty. They want to go forward to trial. This might be because the deal offered is not very good or because they believe that in principle they are right and shouldn’t have to agree to some sort of deal. In this case, it is absolutely vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney who is able to go forward to trial and handle the charges by aggressively challenging the Commonwealth’s case.

Conclusion

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help criminal defendants in Union County to defend against criminal charges by defending them at all stages in the litigation process, including at trial. Call us today to discuss your charges and to have a free consultation on what we can do for you.

What is Impeachment?

Continuing our “Cornerstone on the Constitution” series, we have received a number of requests to answer, “What is impeachment? How does it work? What are the results of the impeachment process?” Although impeachment is one of the hottest political topics in America right now, it is relatively misunderstood.

Impeachment is authorized in the Constitution for all officers of the government of the executive and judicial branches. While the House and Senate retain the power to expel their own members by a vote of their own house, the members of the executive and judicial branches have to be removed by the specific process of a majority vote in the House and two-thirds majority in the Senate. This is done to protect the independence of the executive and judiciary from the legislative branch.

Background

impeachment

It may be hard to believe, but at the founding of the country, the founding fathers were mostly concerned about the potential for abusive power in the legislative branch. They believed that Congress would attempt to arrogate all power to itself and rule the country without the input of the other two branches.

Indeed, Congress is the most powerful branch in the Constitutional frame of government. Congress can limit the president’s salary, define his authority over foreign affairs to a large degree, fire all of his staff and even auction off the White House if they so choose! Accordingly, it’s not surprising that Congress also retains the power to impeach the president if they believe that the president is abusing his power.

Cause for Impeachment

The Constitution allows impeachment of the president in the case of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Despite the best efforts of historians and legal scholars, this phrase remains largely undefined. It certainly seems to imply that an actual crime must have been committed, but the debates in the Constitutional Convention about the phrase suggest that it was meant to be a check on an abuse of political power even if it were not necessarily able to be defined as a crime.

The use of the word “high” in response to these crimes strongly supports the argument that these are meant to be more than “minor” crimes that are the subject of an indictment. Simply put, if the president is caught jay-walking, that is probably not going to be legitimate grounds for impeachment. 

However, the situation is somewhat complicated by the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts may not interfere with the process of impeachment. Put more simply, they have determined that it is a “political question” that is left to the legislative branch and the legislative branch alone to determine. Accordingly, there is no right of appeal from the removal from impeachment, and it is permanent. 

Impeachment Myths

So, let’s tackle a couple of common myths about impeachment.

  1. First, impeachment is not removal from office. Think of impeachment as formal charges being brought against the president of the United States by the House. A group of “prosecutors” from the House are selected to bring the case against the president, and the Senate is the jury.

    The Chief Justice acts as the judge in any trial would act—ruling on the admissibility of evidence and keeping order in the Senate chamber. This is the only time that a judicial official is constitutionally mandated (or permitted) to preside over any proceeding in any other branch of the government.
  2. No, impeaching a President doesn’t mean he is ineligible to be President again. Conversely, it also doesn’t mean he can run for a third term. And impeachment does not remove the president—it only sets up his trial in the Senate. Our two previously-impeached presidents were not removed from office and served out their term in the White House.

No one can say for sure how this impeachment process will end up, but we hope this overview helps you understand this very important constitutional process!