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Chelsea Merta

St. Louis lawyer Chelsea Merta was ordered to pay $775,000 to her former firm for copying client files; she spent two nights in the St. Louis County Jail in August 2019, after being found in contempt of court. 

UPDATED at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday with preliminary ruling from appeals court temporarily halting the judge's order.

CLAYTON — A St. Louis County circuit judge is holding St. Louis lawyer Chelsea Merta in contempt of court, finding that she failed to return thousands of client case files and data she kept when she resigned from the Stange Law Firm.

The Stange Law Firm sued Merta last year claiming that prior to resigning in February 2018, Merta took the firm's files to solicit clients for her new private practice in St. Louis. The lawsuit claimed the files in question included bank and trust account information, property and income documents, client credit card numbers, case summaries and privileged client communications.

Reached by phone Saturday, Merta said she denies her former firm's claims and is appealing the judge's order. She declined further comment.

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Circuit Judge Kristine Kerr on Wednesday issued an arrest warrant for Merta, ordering her to serve 48 hours in the St. Louis County Jail. Kerr's contempt order found that Merta failed to return client files to Stange as ordered earlier this year, instead transferring files from a flash drive to laptops and online storage accounts.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Kristine Kerr

St. Louis County Circuit Judge Kristine Kerr

Merta also may be required to pay Stange's legal and investigative costs exceeding $107,000. Merta has a pending bankruptcy case in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.

On Monday, the Missouri Eastern District Court of appeals issued a preliminary order halting Kerr's contempt order and arrest warrant, giving the judge until July 25 to respond to Merta's appeal.

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