Warrensburg’s Favorite Son Seeks Second Term as County Judge
For Lake George resident John Hall, the role of a judge is not defined solely by the law books that line his chambers.
Sometimes, Hall said, a judge is something of a social worker, assisting an individual to achieve a better life, untethered from the drugs and alcohol that trigger much of the crime in Warren County.
“A year in state prison is as expensive as a year at Harvard, so we hope we can reach people before that’s necessary,” said Hall. “We run a treatment court, which is an intervention process for non-violent drug offenders. We also have another great resource: our probation department. Our parole officers check up on people, frequently on their own time. I think we’ve been successful. We have a low rate of recidivism.”
Since winning his first term as Warren County judge, Hall has presided over approximately 3,000 felony cases in both Warren and Washington Counties.
Hall is now running for a second, ten-year term as County Judge and Surrogate and Acting Supreme Court Justice. Although a Democrat, he says party labels are misleading when applied to judicial candidates.
“I have to run on one line or another, so I’m grateful the Democrats nominated me,” he says. “But judges are insulated from the political process. I have no idea who contributes to my campaign. And for a judge, there is no law for Democrats, another for Republicans, just as there is no separate law for the rich and the poor. There’s only fairness.”
Be that as it may, Hall is probably Warren County’s most prominent Democrat, for a number of reasons.
In 2003, he unexpectedly defeated his popular Republican opponent, Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan, to become one of only a few Democrats to win a county-wide office in decades.
But he’s also the son of John S. Hall, Sr., the Warrensburg attorney who ran for the State Assembly and Congress as a Democrat, unsuccessfully.
“As his children, we did everything we could for him. His losses were disheartening experiences. We thought our father was the best man, and we learned the best man doesn’t always win,” said Hall.
Although related to the Emersons, the prominent Warrensburg family whose members included a Republican congressman and a state Senator, John Hall, Sr. became a Democrat, largely because of the party’s policies during the Great Depression, says John Hall, Jr.
“My dad and my uncle got jobs planting white pines at Pack Forest through the Civilian Conservation Corps, and they never forgot what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did for people in that period, his own family included. And my father loved Lyndon Johnson, so much so that he named our home in Thurman the LBJ Ranch annex,” says Hall.
Hall’s mother died when he was eleven, so if ever a community had a hand in raising a child, Warrensburg has to be counted among them.
“Warrensburg was a great place to grow up,” says Hall. “My father would drop me off at a friend’s house on his way to the office and pick me up on his way home. Between then, at least in the summer, we had free reign. And the mothers always made sure I got lunch.”
John Hall, Jr. followed his father into the practice of law, though somewhat circuitously.
“I was a sociology major at Ithaca College, which I attended for no better reason than the fact that I had to go somewhere, and all three coaches at Warrensburg went to Ithaca,” said Hall.” I spent a year after graduation living in a van. I was a surveyor in Colorado and picked apples in the northwest before heading to Taos. Then I came home.”
With no career plans of his own, Hall began helping out at his father’s law office, and soon came to realize that he not only had an interest in the law, but an aptitude for it.
“My father always hired young lawyers, so it was a great place to work,” recalls Hall. “I wouldn’t be the lawyer I am without Fred Monroe, for example. Fred understood SEQR and the open meetings laws long before the local judges did.”
After graduating from the New England School of Law in Boston, Hall returned to Warrensburg, where he and his wife Ann, whom he’d met at Ithaca College, lived in a house built for his grandparents.
“Ann is a special education teacher and there were no jobs in her field in Warrensburg at the time. So we built a house in Lake George and split the commute,” he says.
Hall ran for a judicial post only once prior to his successful 2003 campaign.
“I was asked to run for the Supreme Court in the early 1990s. I went to Judge John Austin, who urged me to do it, telling me I’d probably lose but that it would be a great experience. He was right on both counts. I thought I would hate calling people and asking them for their votes, but in fact it was very rewarding. In this area at least, people will go out of their way to help you,” he says.
Partisanship and politics aside, Hall was asked what his father would have thought of his 2003, upset victory.
“He would have been thrilled,” said Hall. It’s a feat he hopes to repeat come November. As his own three daughters have learned, on occasion, the best man does win.