A FINRA arbitration panel ordered two Illinois financial advisors to pay their former employer, Mesirow Financial Holdings Inc. $1.873 million for theft of trade secrets and breach of contract.

The Chicago-based advisory company filed the complaint against David Copeland and Neal Price in 2008 after the advisors left Mesirow to form their own registered investment advisory firm, Strategic Wealth Partners LLC in Deerfield, Ill.

According to the complaint, Mesirow accused Copeland, Price and their advisory company of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference, and unfair competition. The company claimed that the advisors solicited Mesirow’s employees to join them in abruptly resigning, form a direct competitor and begin “a campaign to pirate away Mesirow’s clients.”

Copeland and Price filed a counterclaim seeking $615,000 for unpaid wages and deferred compensation, but it was rejected.

The panel ruled in favor of Mesirow, but panel chairman Richard Belmonte wrote a one-sentence dissenting opinion, in which he said the award “is grossly contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and the applicable Illinois law.”

A spokesman for Strategic Wealth Partners, said that the company "strongly disagrees with the outcome" and will continue to evaluate their options. He said the dissenting opinion and the rulings of an Illinois state court in a related case are significant enough that company is considering further legal action.  Last year, an Illinois state court judge rules in a related case between the parties that "information contacts," such as announcement cards and follow-up telephone calls to Mesirow clients that the advisors serviced, "do not constitute solicitation.”

The Illinois court refused to bar Copeland or Price from contacting Mesirow clients while the arbitration was still pending, but ordered the advisors to return certain confidential information to Mesirow.



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