Jailed on contempt, Ben Hall Sr. released hours later after he pays up

Ben Hall Jr. sprung his father from a 90-day sentence for contempt after he complied with a Superior Court judgement in a 13-year-old case and paid $80,390.

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Ben "Buzzy" Hall sits front and center in the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven this past February. — Photo by Michelle Gross

Updated Tuesday, November 24,

In a dramatic courtroom session Friday, Superior Court Justice Cornelius J. Moriarty II found Ben “Buzzy” Hall Sr. of Edgartown, patriarch of the Hall family, guilty of contempt in Dukes County Superior Court, and sentenced him to 90 days in jail. Mr. Hall, 80, was led out of court in handcuffs Friday afternoon and later brought to the nearby Dukes County House of Correction to begin serving his sentence.

A few hours later, Ben Hall Jr., one of the elder Hall’s two sons and the lawyer for the constellation of family trusts that own Vineyard property worth millions, complied with an order by Judge Moriarty and paid the Clerk of the Court the $80,392 Judge Moriarty had previously ordered the Halls to pay the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association (MVCMA).

The award included legal fees incurred in the lengthy appeals process of a case that originated 13 years ago.

“It was clear the judge took no pleasure in putting Mr. Hall in jail,” MVCMA attorney Dan Larkosh told The Times Friday afternoon, shortly after the court took Mr. Hall into custody in handcuffs. “I think Mr. Hall Jr. underestimated what the judge would do.”

Ben Hall Jr., attorney for the Hall family and Lucky 7 Realty Trust, filed a last-minute appeal, a motion for a stay, and a motion for a new trial, and all were denied by Judge Moriarty. Mr. Hall Jr. also attempted to argue that his father did not have the ability to pay.

“I hope this is the end of it,” Mr. Larkosh told The Times Saturday morning. Mr. Larkosh said he received notice at 5:35 pm Friday from Joseph Sollito, Superior Court clerk, that the money had been paid.

“I did not like seeing Mr. Hall go to jail, and my clients certainly didn’t want that,” Mr. Larkosh said. “All we wanted was payment for legal fees for years of frivolous litigation.”

Mr. Larkosh said the swiftness with which the settlement was paid speaks to the speciousness of Ben Hall Jr.’s defense. “We went through 18 months of litigation, with Ben Jr. claiming that they didn’t have the money. I think it speaks to the correctness of the judge’s decision that a few hours after Ben Hall Jr. claims in court that they have no ability to pay, they somehow come up with it.”

In a conversation with The Times on Sunday morning, Brian Hall said that he paid the $80,392 judgment out of his personal funds, “to keep my dad from spending the night in jail.”

Brian Hall said he thinks Judge Moriarty’s decision was a miscarriage of justice, based on the judge’s insistence that Lucky 7 had the ability to pay. Repeating the argument his brother made in court and which Judge Moriarty called part of a “shell game,” Brian Hall said, “Lucky 7 never had a bank account and never had the ability to pay.”

Regrettable course

Before the Halls walked into the courtroom Friday, Judge Moriarty had made it clear he was prepared to act sternly.

“The time for legal shenanigans is over,” Judge Moriarty wrote in his strongly worded decision, issued Nov. 2, that found Ben Hall Sr. and Lucky 7 Realty Trust, a trust owned by Mr. Hall and his sons, Ben Jr. and Brian, in contempt for “failure and refusal to comply with a clear and unequivocal order of the Appeals Court dated July 29, 2013.”
Judge Moriarty ordered Mr. Hall to deliver a cashier’s check to the MVCMA by 2 pm on Friday, Nov. 20.

In a footnote to his order, the judge noted that Mr. Hall had previously testified that the “court could put him in jail before he would pay one dime” as “predictive of an intent to engage in further contemptuous and obstructionist behavior.”

Judge Moriarty continued, “Such a chosen course would be regrettable, because this court is prepared to utilize all measures at its disposal to ensure compliance with the orders of the court.”

On Friday, Judge Moriarty followed through on his word.

Shakedown

Ben Hall Jr. did not respond to an email request for an interview. Mr. Hall did call The Times and leave a series of three angry voicemails faulting The Times’ reporting and demanding retractions of various points.

The Hall lawyer insisted the Halls were not a party to the case — the corporation was responsible for any judgements. “This was a shakedown,” Ben Hall Jr. said.

In a more measured conversation with The Times Monday, the elder Mr. Hall said his battle was never with the members of the MVCMA or the organization, which he likes and respects, but with their attorney, Mr. Larkosh.

Mr. Hall said lawsuits are “always a crapshoot,” and there is never a guarantee how they will turn out. He said he did not read the Nov. 2 decision, he only knew he had to come up with payment.

Asked about his failure to pay the judgement Judge Moriarty had make it very clear had to be paid, Mr. Hall said, “I don’t have a bank account. In my capacity as trustee I can sign deeds, I can sign leases. That’s all I can do. There’s not a bank account there, I cannot just go and draw money.”

Mr. Hall said he never intended any disrespect to Judge Moriarty when he said the court could put him in jail. That angry outburst was directed at Mr. Larkosh. “Be careful what you wish for,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Hall said he was a little surprised when he was placed in handcuffs and leg restraints. He was grateful that he was allowed to wait in the courtroom law library before being brought to jail. Mr. Hall said he has claustrophobia, and tried not to panic.

The jail staff could not have been more professional, he said. “They told me they really didn’t want me there,” he said. He was familiar with the booking room. “I’ve been there before to bail people out,” he said.

Mr. Hall said he did not personally have the cash to comply with the judge’s order, but his son did: “At a certain point, I said, You’ve got to get me out of here.”

In retrospect, Mr. Hall said he should have taken it upon himself to go directly to the Camp Meeting Association and discuss the issue. “It was unwise to take it as far as we did, let’s put it that way,” he said. “Most people don’t have the resources, and it’s a gamble if you go to court, even if you think you have a strong case and so on and so forth … I’m lucky to have somebody who represents me who I don’t have to pay.”

Mr. Hall disputes the widespread notion that he is wealthy. He pointed to his real estate tax bill and highlighted permitting roadblocks that have hindered his family’s efforts to develop properties “one way or another, and it gets to the point where we just don’t have the cash to do that.”

Mr. Hall is aware of the many comments posted to the newspapers critical of his family. “They come out of the woodwork,” he said. “They kick you when you’re down.”

Evidence is clear

Mr. Hall, often referred to as Buzzy, is an avid opera fan, a talented singer, and a music lover with a penchant for collecting and restoring vintage gramophones.

Descendants of a well-known banker and businessman, Mr. Hall and his family have a longstanding history in the real estate business on Martha’s Vineyard. Varying in size and scale, the family, including Buzzy, his two sisters, and his sons Brian and Benjamin, own upwards of $40 million of real estate, including 113 residential, commercial, and retail properties and undeveloped land, across the Island, according to the Registry of Deeds.

The legal saga between the Hall family and the MVCMA began in May 2002, when Seagate Inc., a holding company for Hall family real estate assets, filed a civil suit against the MVCMA and Pauline Gregory. The complaint contended that a tenant of Ms. Gregory’s, a Chinese restaurant, had an exhaust fan that encroached on Hall property, an alley between the two properties, and the smell from the restaurant was hurting business at the Island Theater. The suit also claimed that a corner of Ms. Gregory’s building encroached on Hall property. The exhaust ductwork was rerouted by Ms. Gregory to mitigate any potential nuisance and encroachment.
Following various legal twists and turns, on Oct. 15, 2011, summary judgement, which occurs when the facts are not in dispute by both sides, was granted in favor of the MVCMA.

On Oct. 25, 2011, according to the finding of facts by Judge Moriarty, the Halls substituted Lucky 7, another family holding company, as the plaintiff in place of Seagate. On Jan. 13, 2012, Lucky 7 filed a notice of appeal with the Appeals Court.

On July 29, 2013, the Appeals Court ordered Benjamin L. Hall and Lucky 7 Realty Trust to pay the MVCMA $38,400 for legal fees and costs. Mr. Hall refused to pay the order, leading the MVCMA to file a complaint of contempt against him on April 24, 2014.

In his Nov. 2 decision, Judge Moriarty wrote, “Hall maintains that his failure to pay the Order of the Appeals Court is due to the fact that Lucky 7 has not funds from which to pay. The Court is not so persuaded. Since the date of the Order of Appeals Court, Lucky 7 has had ample income and assets with which to pay, but has simply refused to do so. The real reason, as demonstrated by his sworn testimony, rests with his personal antipathy toward the MVCMA’s counsel. As a result, he has engaged in a shell game in order to put Lucky 7’s assets beyond the reach of its creditors.”

Nelson Sigelman contributed to this reporting.