On March 17, 2021

Peter Hall, lone Vermont judge on federal appeals court, dies at 72

By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger

RUTLAND—Judge Peter Hall died early Thursday morning, March 11, one week after announcing he would step back from the region’s federal appellate court.

Hall, 72, was the lone Vermonter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which is based in New York City. Judge Geoffrey Crawford, Vermont’s chief federal district court judge, confirmed the news.

Hall had been battling cancer, according to Rose Rizzico, his judicial assistant.

“He was just always friendly and welcoming,” Crawford said Thursday afternoon. “His strengths were a great personal warmth and huge amount of common sense.”

Hall announced last Thursday that he was taking “senior status” on the court, a form of semiretirement. His decision allowed President Joe Biden to appoint a successor, likely flipping the court from a 7-6 majority of Republican appointees to a slight Democratic majority, Bloomberg Law reported at the time.

The influential 2nd Circuit hears appeals for federal districts in Connecticut, New York and Vermont.

Hall, who worked for a Rutland law firm earlier in his career, continued to keep chambers in an office in the Rutland Federal Building, as well as one at the court in New York City.

President George W. Bush appointed Hall to the post in December 2003 on the recommendation of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. He was confirmed by the Senate in June 2004.

During his confirmation hearing in 2004 before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Hall was asked about his thoughts of judicial activism in the courts, according to a transcript of that hearing.

“It would be my intention as a judge, if I am confirmed,” Hall replied, “to follow the laws as closely as I could to divine Congress’s intention from the written text of those laws and from the legislative history if there were a question around them, and to be bound by those laws and to be bound by the interpretation of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Jerry O’Neill, a Burlington attorney who worked with Hall when they both were federal prosecutors, said last week that Hall held what some call “Vermont’s seat” on the 13-member court.

“It’s such a deep loss for the state,” said Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who had been a law clerk for Hall. She described him as a “personal mentor to me and so many Vermonters.”

Gray added that Hall “defines integrity.” It was Hall who swore Gray in as lieutenant governor in January.

“This is someone who has committed his life to service and the rule of law,” she said, “and despite the deteriorating health situation fought hard to do his work and do his job ’til last Thursday.”

Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Chittenden, said the Rutland County legislative delegation had been preparing a resolution honoring Hall, also a Chittenden resident. Harrison said Hall not only served the residents of Vermont but those throughout the federal districts covered by the 2nd Circuit.

“We’re all very sad to hear of his passing,” Harrison said.

Statements of remembrance came Thursday from across the political and legal worlds.

“Judge Hall was our beloved colleague, and this is a grievous loss for our court and for all of our judges,” Chief Circuit Judge Debra Ann Livingston said in a written statement.

“Over the course of nearly 17 years on the Court of Appeals,” she added, “Judge Hall distinguished himself as a thoughtful and humane jurist.”

At Hall’s confirmation hearing in 2004, Leahy introduced Hall to the Senate Judiciary Committee and spoke of his move from private practice to top federal prosecutor in Vermont.

“He also held one of the most important offices a citizen can hold in Vermont,” Leahy told the committee, according to the transcript. “He was a member of the Select Board of the town of Chittenden, which is in Rutland County, not Chittenden County.”

Leahy described Hall in a statement Thursday as a “highly respected jurist,” “a champion of the law” and a good friend.

“Vermont and the country are richer for his many years of service,” the senator added.

Hall is survived by his wife, Maria Dunton, five children and five grandchildren, according to the statement issued Thursday by the 2nd Circuit.

Paul Heintz/VTDigger contributed to this reporting.

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