Maurice J. Hall: Former Palm Beach County judge stole money from clients, investigators say

In the end, maybe the former judge judged himself.

Fourteen years after opening his own law firm, former Palm Beach County circuit court judge Maurice J. Hall came forward to authorities. He wanted to tell them something: since at least 1996 he had been carrying out a "Ponzi-like scheme" that involved ripping off clients' money to cover his business expenses and his own salary.

Three months after coming forward in July 2010 Hall was disbarred — banned from practicing law in the state.

The 63-year-old former attorney, who survived a shooting that killed his client and another attorney in 1994, was charged Monday with one count of money laundering in connection with the self-made scheme that saw him raiding trust accounts, say investigators with the State Attorney's office.

Hall told investigators he was awaiting a windfall fee to his law firm, Maurice J. Hall, P.A., in West Palm Beach. When that day arrived, he'd pay his clients back.

It never happened.

According to an arrest report written by State Attorney's investigator Eric Hutchinson, Hall was "forthright" after coming forward to the Florida Bar.

Hall told Hutchinson in a July 27, 2011 interview that he had been transferring funds from a trust account set up for his clients to an operating account that he used to pay for business expenses, the arrest report said. He had been misappropriating money for more than a dozen years, the report stated.

Hall also told the investigator he "routinely" used funds from the trust account for his personal use and gave clients only a portion of their payments from lawsuit settlements.

"In some cases, no settlement funds were handed over to his clients at all," the arrest report stated.

As for the question of how much money Hall had actually taken, he couldn't say.

"Respondent is unable to calculate the total amounts misappropriated, but believes the sum to be substantial," say documents from Hall's disbarment proceedings.

The Florida Bar makes clear its tight rules surrounding how attorneys handle trust accounts. Among the regulations, money placed into a trust account cannot be spent for any reason other than the account's specific purpose.

Attorneys are forbidden from using money in trust accounts for their own personal benefit.

Asked about the two-year span between Hall coming forward to the Florida Bar and his arrest Monday, Chief Assistant State Attorney Paul Zacks said he couldn't comment on an ongoing case.

Hall will be appearing in Palm Beach County Court at 9 a.m. Friday, Zacks said.

Hall stepped down from his post as a Palm Beach County circuit judge in 1986, opting to go back into private practice. It wasn't clear how long he had been a judge. At the time he was 37 years old.

Hall was also a former president of the Palm Beach County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He led anti-racism rallies in the 1990 including a joint black-Jewish rally against the Ku Klux Klan.

Two years before he opened his firm, Hall was wounded in a May 1994 shooting at a deposition at a Fort Lauderdale office. Killed in that shooting were his client Clarence C. Rudolph, 56, and West Palm Beach attorney Karen Starr Marx, 30, who was several months pregnant at the time.

Julio Mora was convicted and originally sentenced to death for the murders. In 2002, he was taken off Death Row. Now 86, Mora is serving a life sentence at Charlotte Correctional Institution.

In an interview in Sept. 1994 with the Sun Sentinel, Hall said "every day is a blessing." At the time, he was also a youth minister at the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.

"Everybody with whom I speak," Hall said, "I tell them you may have a headache, or you may think you may not have enough money to get through the day or whatever, but whatever you think your problem is, just be grateful you're breathing."

Hall, who was released Monday on a $3,000 bond, couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.


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