Hill attorney hopes to bring experience, public service passion to Court of Common Pleas

by Pete Mazzaccaro
Posted 5/12/21

On Easter Sunday, 1996, a community in Southwest Philadelphia was surprised to find itself a destination for a caravan of large dump trucks.

“Imagine you're sitting in your living …

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Hill attorney hopes to bring experience, public service passion to Court of Common Pleas

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On Easter Sunday, 1996, a community in Southwest Philadelphia was surprised to find itself a destination for a caravan of large dump trucks.

“Imagine you're sitting in your living room…. and all of the sudden the house begins to shake,” said longtime Chestnut Hill resident Chris Hall, a former assistant U.S. attorney who was with the Southeast Pennsylvania office at the time. “You look out the front window and there is a caravan of 10-wheel dump trucks rolling down your one-way street. There's an access point to an alley behind your house, and they take that U-turn, and they come back up your back alley, and they start to dump truckloads full of concrete, rebar, brick and a white paper-like stuff down a slope off your back alley.”

It turned out that the trucks were dumping demolition material, including asbestos, in the lot, illegally. They had razed a property on Easter Sunday, hoping to avoid notice and dumped the debris in a lot that had been purchased by the Grant Paper Co.

Hall led the case against Grant and its parent companies, winning millions in damages and fines. Not only was the site eventually cleaned, but each resident won $25,000 in damages to repair cracks to their foundations caused by the trucks. It was the first example of an environmental justice suit in the state of Pennsylvania. And it was a case that would come to define his career as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

Hall moved to Chestnut Hill from Boston with his wife Mary Ann Boyer 31 years ago He graduated from Amherst University in 1981 with a degree in history. He went to Georgetown for law school and graduated in 1985. He spent 16 years with the Justice Department and then took a job with the Philadelphia firm, Saul, Ewing, Arnstein and Lehr, where he is chair of the firm’s white-collar defense and government investigations practice. He is also part of a city organization that provides legal defense to clients who otherwise can’t afford one.

In his more than 30 years as an attorney, Hall said he has developed a passion for public service that has convinced him that a seat on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas bench is the logical next step in his long legal career. He’s running for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas in the May 18 primary election. Running for judge, Hall said, is part of a natural progression.

“When you work for the Department of Justice, your goal is not to win or lose; your goal is justice,” Hall said. “And so, you know, moving into private practice, it's the same goal – ensuring that the government doesn't overreach, ensuring that the government is fair.”

That attention to fairness, he said, would inform his judicial philosophy, which he said would center around procedural clarity. “I would bring a philosophy of procedural justice,” he said. “That breaks down into three things: Always providing kind of a safe environment where everyone feels welcome and respected; making sure everyone has an opportunity to be heard… to say their piece; and then the third is, win or lose, explaining a decision.

“There have been studies, centered out of the Yale Law School, about the impact of those three simple things: a safe, respectful environment, the opportunity to be heard and an explanation. And if litigants and defendants in criminal cases are given that procedural justice, they invariably respect the result, regardless and experience lower rates of recidivism.” Outside of the courtroom, Hall has been involved in public life in Northwest Philadelphia and the region as both a volunteer and civic leader.

He was a longtime soccer coach with Chestnut Hill Youth Sports Club. It was a way to give back to a community where he and his wife raised three children: Jim, a middle school science teacher at West Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy, Antonia, a science teacher in Chicago, and Andrew, who works for a tech firm in Philadelphia.

Hall was also part of a founding group and chair of Breakthrough Bike Challenge, a fundraising organization that was founded in 2015 in honor of the late Muscoe Martin, a Hill architect who died from cancer that year. The Breakthrough Bike Challenge has grown into a formidable charitable organization, having become the official fundraising ride of Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, for which it has raised $350,000 a year, $2 million to date.

Hall said he supports current criminal justice reforms in Philadelphia, particularly reforms to the cash bail system and efforts to make the entire city’s judicial system more diverse. Hall is currently on the board of the Philadelphia Diversity Law Group, which works to place minority law students in early internships, providing them with coaching, training and other valuable skills to make sure they have an easier time landing jobs right out of law school.

Hall has been endorsed by the city’s independent wards, including Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy’s 9th Ward and Mt. Airy’s 22nd Ward Open Caucus. He’s been endorsed by City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart, the Pennsylvania Working Families Party, Philadelphia NOW and Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club among many other organizations. He’s also received a “highly recommended” distinction from the Philadelphia Bar Association, a prized honor for judicial candidates because of its independence and focus on professional standards.

Despite a very rewarding career, Hall said he believes the Court of Common Pleas will be even more fulfilling.

“I have friends who have done this before me,” he said. “And to a person, they tell me how much they enjoy it and how rewarding it is to serve. And so, I hope I have the privilege of doing it. I hope I can serve if I'm elected.”

For more, see chrishallforjudge.com

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