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PNC lawsuit goes to local judge

| Saturday, May 29, 2004

An Allegheny County judge will determine the outcome of a lawsuit filed by PNC Financial Services Group against a former PNC executive and a rival banking company based in Ohio.

Common Pleas Judge S. Louis Farino is weighing whether to issue an injunction in the case, which involves PNC's allegations that James "Jay" Ferguson III, of Squirrel Hill, a former asset-management veteran of PNC Bank, "breached covenants" with PNC since he left the company late last year to help launch Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp's wealth management business in the Pittsburgh market.

As reported by the Tribune-Review in December, Ferguson, a 33-year career banker, was hired to develop Fifth Third's business of providing wealthy people in Western Pennsylvania with investment management, trust, private banking, business succession and other services.

He had similar duties at PNC, where he started as a trust officer in 1974. Ferguson became national managing executive of PNC's private bank in 1998 and left as managing director of PNC Advisors.

According to public documents, PNC alleged that Ferguson has not followed terms of an agreement with PNC that he not call on to employ, or actually employ, other PNC employees within a period of "no less" than 12 months after he left the company.

Part of its complaint involves allegations Ferguson had a role in the hiring of Bernadette Smith, former portfolio manager/relationship manager at PNC Advisor Wealth Management Group, who recently took a position with Fifth Third in Pittsburgh.

The complaint also alleged that Fifth Third " ... interfered with, and continues to interfere with PNC's contract with Ferguson by encouraging and enabling Ferguson to call upon, offer to employ, or employ PNC's employees on its behalf and to its benefit." It asks for an order directing Ferguson to abide by the agreement and for the defendants to pay financial damages.

The defense claims that PNC did not provide clear evidence of "immediate and irreparable harm" and that Ferguson was living up to his part of the agreement and had no part in recruiting Smith for Fifth Third. The defense maintains Smith "would have left PNC even if Fifth Third Bank had not been interested in hiring her."

Robert A. Galanter, an attorney representing Ferguson, declined comment. Stacie R. Hass, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third Bancorp, said the company's policy is not to comment on pending litigation. Pat McMahon, a spokesman for PNC, also declined to comment.

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