Brandon Michael Hall, 23, could have gone to prison for up to five years if he had been convicted of the felony charges made against him by the state Attorney General’s Office.
In an opinion released this week, Ottawa County District Judge Bradley Knoll declined to bind Hall over to Circuit Court on the felony charges.
To read the opinion, download the RELATED FILE (PDF) below this story.
Hall was charged after authorities determined he forged signatures on several nominating petitions for 2012 judicial candidate Chris Houghtaling. With the signatures invalidated, Houghtaling did not have enough signatures to run for district judge and his name was removed from the ballot.
The opinion noted that on the day before and on the day of the filing deadline last year, Hall added several names to the petitions using petitions that had been previously circulated by Houghtaling for judicial elections two years earlier.
“Defendant added the names by copying the signatures from the 2010 petitions and then filed the petitions with the Secretary of State, signing the petitions himself as petitioner," the judge wrote.
Hall’s attorney, Donald Hann, said the petition notes that anyone signing a false name is guilty of a misdemeanor, not a felony.
The Attorney General’s Office argued that “conduct prohibited by the election law can also be charged as forgery, even if not so designated by the statue,” Knoll noted in his opinion. The judge wrote that the court must give meaning to all the words contained in a statute.
“The designation of forgery as a felony is not expressly indicated, but is presumed from the maximum possible penalty, which takes the matter outside this court’s jurisdiction,” Knoll wrote.
Knoll said there is still probable cause that a crime was committed, but it will be handled at the misdemeanor level.
Hall now faces up to a $500 fine and/or up to 93 days in jail if he's convicted of the 10 counts of signing unlawful signatures. A pre-trial hearing on the case has been set for Nov. 7.
"I am extremely grateful Judge Knoll rebuked the attorney general, upheld the law and dismissed these outrageous felony charges,” Hall said. “I am immensely sorry to our amazing community here in Grand Haven that these unfortunate events occurred, and I am highly looking forward to the conclusion of these proceedings."
Hall is a former Grand Haven School Board member. He stepped down from the board in 2010 after being convicted of stealing several hundred dollars from a school-sanctioned fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.
Houghtaling said Hall asked if he could work on his judicial campaign as a chance to redeem himself and show he could be trusted. The local attorney said it was a mistake to give Hall that chance.
Hann said the Attorney General’s Office could appeal the decision.
A call to the Attorney General’s Office was not returned before press time.