A judge's gavelDomestic violence is a very serious and sensitive problem. Receiving threatening text messages or calls, physical abuse to the body, or showing up to your house unannounced and uninvited and making threats are all circumstances that may make someone consider filing for a PFA Order.  If you find yourself in need of protection against domestic violence, the Protection from Abuse process provides a way to obtain protection from your abuser.

I have represented plaintiffs and defendants in PFA matters, and I understand the stress that comes along with obtaining or defending a PFA Order and how serious PFA matters should be handled. Whether you are filing a PFA against someone else or have had one filed against you, it is important to understand what a PFA is and how the PFA system works so that you can be prepared.

What is a PFA?

Many times we hear a protection from abuse (“PFA”) order incorrectly referred to as a “restraining order.” In Pennsylvania, it is a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, not a restraining order that is issued by the court to protect victims of domestic violence, and, in some cases, their children, from their abuser.

A PFA Order is a civil order that protects a person and/or their minor children from domestic abuse by their abuser.   A PFA Order will do several things to protect the victim:

  • require an abuser to abide by certain requirements, such as refraining from being in the presence of the victim(s);
  • prevent an abuser from stalking, harassing, threatening, abusing, or attempting to use physical force;
  • and prevent an abuser from contacting the victim(s) or third parties to relay or get in contact with the victim(s) protected under the PFA Order.

A PFA Order also may evict the abuser from a shared residence, may prohibit the abuser from possessing any firearms, and may award temporary physical custody of the parties’ children to the victim.

Who can a PFA Order be issued against?

The Pennsylvania PFA Act sets forth specific rules on who a victim of domestic violence can file a PFA against.

Continue Reading What is a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order?

Many condominium and homeowners’ associations worry about people who are registered as sex offenders under the Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), usually referred to as “Megan’s Law.” Many associations I work with have considered a range of ideas, from not allowing Megan’s Law registrants to use the community pool all the way to not allowing Megan’s Law registrants to own or rent units in the community. Up until now, there has not been much legal guidance on what an association can and cannot do. A recent case, Lake Naomi Club, Inc. v. Rosado, is the first Pennsylvania case to address some of these questions.

What is Megan’s Law?

Megan’s Law requires people who are convicted of certain sexual crimes to register with the Pennsylvania State Police. Registration may include information on where the person lives and works, photos and physical descriptions of the person, and descriptions of the crime that triggered the registration. Depending on the “Tier” of the sexual offense, a person could be required to register on the Megan’s Law site for 10, 15 or 25 years, or for life.

Some of the worst offenders – defined as “Sexually Violent Predators” – trigger a community notification process. For these registrants, the police will provide notification to anyone who lives or works within 250 feet of the registrant’s home, or to the 25 closest residences. They also provide notice to local school districts, day cares and preschools.

Megan’s Law does not say where registrants can or cannot live or work. Other than notification for Sexually Violent Predators, Megan’s Law does not require the police to tell anyone when a registrant moves into the community. People can search for sexual offenders or request notifications through the State Police.

The Lake Naomi case.

Lake Naomi HOA amended its Declaration to say that no registered Tier III sex offender can reside in any home within the Community. The amendment was approved by over 70% of the Unit Owners. Mr. Rosado owned a home in Lake Naomi when the amendment was passed. The Association sued Rosado to keep him from living in his home.

The Commonwealth Court decided that the Association could not prohibit Megan’s Law registrants from living in the Community. The Court said that Megan’s Law and the Parole Board establish the statewide public policy that regulates where Megan’s Law registrants may live. No condominium or homeowners’ association is allowed to restrict where sex offenders can or cannot live. Continue Reading Associations Cannot Ban Sex Offenders from Community

Mark your calendars for the Lancaster County Extraordinary Give, occurring this week on Friday, November 18th.  Russell, Krafft & Gruber is thrilled to participate in the #Extragive as a Commonwealth Court Sponsor of the Lancaster Law Foundation, one of the numerous nonprofits fundraising during the event.

The Lancaster Law Foundation (formerly known as the Lancaster Bar Association Foundation) is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Lancaster County residents by promoting equal access to justice through philanthropy, education, and service.  The Foundation funds public interest law projects, coordinates with local attorneys in delivering pro bono service, and educates the public on civic and legal issues.

In 2022 the Foundation, as part of the Community Grants Program, granted $84,000 to local nonprofits making a difference in our community.  The Foundation also spent about $4,000 to create two new comfort rooms at the Lancaster County Courthouse.  These rooms are intended to ease anxiety for children who must testify in court in custody and protection from abuse hearings.  We at Russell, Krafft & Gruber are proud to have two attorneys serve on the Lancaster Law Foundation board, Julia G. Vanasse, Esq. and Nichole M. Baer, Esq. Continue Reading #ExtraGive and Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP

November is National Adoption Month and over the years, Lancaster County Orphan’s Court Judges have celebrated it with balloons and LOTS of adoption finalizations on a single day. The tradition was begun by the Honorable Judge Jay J. Hoberg but was suspended in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19. This year, with the help of the Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency and the Young Lawyers Section of the Lancaster County Bar Association, the Honorable Jeffrey J. Reich resurrected the tradition.

Thank you to LNP who featured the happy event in an article this morning. With more balloons, a celebratory banner, candy for attendees and a personalized gift from the Young Lawyers Section, twelve children officially became part of their forever family yesterday. I had the honor of representing the adoptive families and it was truly what the Honorable Judge Jeffrey Reich always refers to as “Happy Court.” Throughout the year, I am privileged to represent families in adoptions both through an Agency, privately, in step-parent adoptions, and internationally. But, Adoption Day is always just a little bit more fun because of the number of children and families who get to celebrate together. Special thanks to Judge Reich, the Children and Youth Agency, the Lancaster Bar Association leadership and the Young Lawyers Section for making this year extra special.  And a big thank you and warm virtual hug to all my adoptive families and their children who make my job a little sweeter throughout the year.

As a litigation attorney, I meet with many clients seeking advice because their new home construction or renovation project was done poorly. Whether these homeowners are dealing with big or small construction companies, the same problems arise when it comes to construction defects. Often, the contractor’s work was subpar, the homeowner spent thousands of dollars to fix the problems, and now the builder refuses to pay or has gone completely missing.

Many times, the homeowner comes to us believing  the solution is easy: find the builder’s insurance carrier and file a claim or sue them to get reimbursed. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, we are prohibited from doing so.

Why Can’t You Sue Your Builder’s Insurance Company?

In 1992, the Pennsylvania Superior Court discussed this issue in detail in a case called Strutz v. State Farm, 609 A.2d 569 (Pa. Super. 1992). The Superior Court held that a third party (in this case the injured homeowner) cannot bring an action directly against the insurance company because the homeowner is not the beneficiary of the insurance coverage. In simpler terms, the Superior Court said that since the homeowner was not paying the insurance premiums and does not have a contract with the insurance company, the insurance company has no obligation to pay them.

This concept is difficult to comprehend since common sense would suggest that insurance is supposed to protect the injured party not those who were responsible for the damage.

How to Benefit from Your Builder’s Insurance Coverage

However, even though you can’t file a claim against or sue your builder’s insurance carrier directly, you can still benefit from your builder’s insurance coverage. In many cases, when a construction defect leads to litigation, the builder will contact their insurance carrier to request that the carrier provide legal representation to defend against the construction defect claim. The insurance carrier would then be responsible for paying for any settlement or judgment against the builder.

What Can I Do to Find a Reputable Builder?

So, what can you take from all this as you consider taking on a home construction project? You should work with a builder or construction company that has a longstanding reputation in the community, can provide personal references, has a brick and mortar office, and, most importantly, is insured. Those companies pride themselves on doing good work and correcting their mistakes when they happen. If there is a problem with their work, it is more likely they will do their best to fix the problem or compensate you for any damage they may have caused to protect their reputation in the community.

Dealing with businesses with little to no reputation in the community and no clear business address can be risky. Those types of builders often don’t have adequate insurance and, if they do bad work, may just disappear leaving you with very little chance that you will ever get paid for the damage.

For many people, it can be difficult to afford the larger more esteemed companies, but be aware that paying the right price can be the best way to avoid serious headaches. In the end, there is value in knowing you will be properly protected should any damage occur. Support smaller business by checking references and ensuring they are committed to quality work and have the insurance to back it up.

Did you know that October 17-October 23, 2022 is National Estate Planning Week?  National Estate Planning Week was established in 2008, in an effort to highlight the importance of having an updated estate plan.

It is widely estimated that up to 60% of Americans do not have a Will.  As an attorney who focuses primarily on estate planning and estate administration, I’d wager to say that a large portion of those that do have a Will have not updated it in quite some time.  A good estate plan is meant to grow with you and should be reviewed regularly.  I recommend that clients review their estate planning documents every 3 to 5 years and whenever a major life change occurs.

You should also check in with your attorney to make sure your documents are still current.  The laws are constantly changing and it is important to make sure your documents keep up.  In 2020 Pennsylvania finally adopted laws dealing with digital assets.  Over the last few years, changes have been made to the requirements in your documents to give your fiduciary access to your digital assets.  Think digital assets only refers to cryptocurrencies?  Think again.  Digital assets certainly includes cryptocurrencies, but also include photos stored in the cloud, passwords and login information for accounts, social media accounts, PayPal accounts, and so much more.  Do you have an Apple card? That Apple Cash card is a digital asset!  As technology continues to advance, digital assets will continue to grow.  Making sure your estate planning documents have the language necessary to grow with them is important.

Not sure if your documents have the required digital asset language or just think it is time to review your documents as a whole?  Our estate planning attorneys are happy to help.

Lindsay SchoenebergerThe law firm of Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP has named Lindsay Schoeneberger a Partner effective July 1, 2022.

Lindsay joined Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP following a clerkship with the Honorable Jay J. Hoberg of the Court of Common Pleas of Lancaster County, Orphans’ Court Division.

Lindsay is a 2010 cum laude graduate of Widener University School of Law. She obtained her B.A. from Muhlenberg College in 2007. Lindsay was a member of the Widener Law Journal and a clinic leader at the Harrisburg Civil Law Clinic. She also worked as an intern for the Office of Inspector General through the Governor’s Office of General Counsel Summer Legal Internship Program.

Lindsay is the Chair of the Lancaster Bar Association’s Estate Planning & Probate Law Section. Her thorough approach to estate planning is appreciated by all of her clients regardless of their stage in life or the size of their estate. Lindsay’s attention to detail is important for clients needing a simple Will and for those requiring a complex trust or other estate planning strategies. She brings the same knowledge, skill, and level of care when probating and settling an estate. Lindsay recognizes and addresses the unique needs of each of her clients and their families.

Lindsay concentrates her practice in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Elder Law, Orphans’ Court Litigation, Guardianships, and Adoption Law, providing personalized counsel and effective legal representation to a wide range of clients.

 


 

Katharine Costlow

Katharine Costlow is an experienced litigator with a history of winning difficult cases. Most recently, she was a public defender in Dauphin County, where she tried and won multiple felony and misdemeanor cases. She represented both adults and juveniles – whose cases required special attention. Katharine joins Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP with an established reputation for diligence, attention to detail, and tenacity during trial.

Outstanding results are not her only focus. Katharine represented hundreds of clients and regularly provided status updates and reviewed strategic options. She knows that the results of any legal representation, including trial victories, are meaningless if they don’t serve the client’s end goals.

Katharine graduated cum laude from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, with a biology degree. She went on to attend Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, where she graduated with a Business Advising Certificate with honors and finished first-in-class in her advanced legal analysis and alternative dispute resolution classes. She was on the Moot Court Honor Society Board and competed in the Jessup International Moot Court Competition.

Katharine has devoted a significant part of her life to service. In addition to spending nearly five years as a public defender, she is a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She received the Presidential Gold Award for her service to AmeriCorps, where she served the Erie Community—specifically, at the Veteran Affairs Hospital. She also worked at the Civil Law Clinic during law school.

Pennsylvania businesses and taxpayers, beware. There is a new scam around.  On July 14, 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue issued a press release warning business owners that fraudulent letters are being delivered by U.S. Mail.

These letters impersonating the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue demand that the taxpayers turn over their tax and accounting records. They allege that there is a tax investigation of your entity by the “State Revenue and Cash Disbursements Unit,” who will be imposing penalties if you do not comply “immediately.”
Continue Reading Pennsylvania Businesses: Beware Fraudulent Government Notices

For many years, Pennsylvania has been one of the few states that did not recognize like-kind exchanges (also known as 1031 exchanges or land swaps).  Now, with the passing of Act 53 of 2022 by Governor Wolf, Pennsylvania finally has adopted 1031 exchanges. This change may lower your tax burden on real estate transactions and even encourage more investment in the state.

What is a Like-Kind Exchange?

A like-kind exchange is a strategy under the Internal Revenue Code to exchange property of the “same nature, character, or class” without paying federal income tax. The type of property usually doesn’t matter as all real estate is considered like-kind to each other so long as it’s located in the United States of America. For example, an investor may want to sell her residential rental to purchase an apartment building or an office building.
Continue Reading Like-Kind Exchanges Better in Pennsylvania

Mark Twain was right – no one is making any new land.  He probably had no idea there would be a shortage of developable land around the historically rural Lancaster County.  Two recent programs of the Lancaster County Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Council (Lancaster C&I) highlighted this problem and showed one possible solution to the shortage of available developable land: changing how you use the land you already have.

Continue Reading Leveraging Our Land: Promote Innovation, not Acquisition Says Lancaster C&I