Hearing Officer Felled by Heart Attack : Parking Violators' 'Santa' Dies

Times Staff Writer

Hal Halter, affectionately known in the beach cities as the affable Santa Claus of Hermosa Beach, has died of a heart attack after a long illness.

Halter, 69, a retired attorney, was Hermosa Beach's first administrative hearing officer for parking citations. City officials estimate that the San Pedro resident heard several thousand appeals during his four years with the city. Because of illness, Halter relinquished his duties in September.

Halter, who waged a long battle with diabetes, sat in a wheelchair through two four-hour hearings each week. Scores of frustrated residents and beachgoers, stung for parking violations in a city that annually issues three times as many tickets as it has residents, turned up each session to give their alibis to the jolly officer, who patiently listened to them all--regardless of how far-fetched the tale.

"He could've been like a Santa Claus," one ticket holder said last year. "He gave me clearance of the ticket and, well, he's just very kind."

General Services Director Joan Noon, who hired Halter in 1981, said this week that he was perfectly suited for the hearing administrator's job. "He had a terrific sense of humor," she said. "You have to have a sense of humor to do that kind of work."

Noon said Halter, a criminal lawyer for 33 years in Los Angeles County, dismissed about 2% of the 50,000 tickets written in the city each year. Halter estimated in an interview last year that he dismissed about 50% of the citations brought to him on appeal.

Halter explained his philosophy about parking citations in the same interview.

"People feel they've been singled out because they feel they've gotten a ticket they don't deserve," he said. "I try to show them that I'm happy to listen to their stories. . . . A proper application of compassion is in order."

Halter is survived by his mother of Redondo Beach and two daughters and a son, all of whom live in San Diego County. In honor of his service to the city, the Hermosa Beach City Council adjourned in Halter's memory on Tuesday night.

His ashes were scattered at sea on Wednesday morning.

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