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Why was a state senator served legal papers at his election party?

Congressional candidate and state Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton) was coasting to an easy victory the night of California’s primary election when things went a little sideways.

A process server crashed Hall’s June 7 election night party in San Pedro to serve him with a subpoena to appear as a witness in a civil dispute between a Compton housing development and a group of tenants who claim they have been harassed by the owners.

A television news camera crew was on hand that night capturing the moment as Hall, who will face fellow Democrat Nanette Barragán in a November runoff to replace outgoing Rep. Janice Hahn, was handed the papers.

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It is the latest twist in a legal dispute that started last year when tenants living at the Alameda Court housing development in Compton filed a lawsuit claiming they were led to believe a portion of their rent would go toward a down payment to own the same units.

Hall helped push through the project when he was a Compton city council member and attended the groundbreaking in 2007, and he now lives in one of the town houses.

The owners dispute the allegations and a jury trial is currently set for October.

The suit specifically accuses Hall of receiving special treatment, including “reserved parking spaces for multiple vehicles” from the development’s owners.

Mac Zilber, a Hall consultant, said the campaign would not comment on “a frivolous nonissue like this.”

Two of the defendants in the case, Forte Resources Inc, which developed the property and is part of Alameda Court LLC, which owns the complex, contributed $13,700 to Hall’s previous campaigns for a city council and his 2008 race for the state Assembly.

Brandon Fernald, the attorney representing the tenants, requested a copy of Hall’s lease and other documents in the subpoena, which also calls on Hall to testify in a deposition at Fernald’s offices on June 29.

Zilber did not say whether Hall would attend the deposition and declined to make Hall available for an interview. The spokesman instead shared a statement from Hall in which he dismissed the subpoena as a “gimmick” meant to attack him.

“This was just a Karl Rovian tactic to make the news,” Hall said in the statement.

Fernald said a lawyer for Hall, David M. Huff, has requested the deposition be continued until after the general election.

Primary night was not the first time Fernald attempted to serve Hall with a deposition subpoena.

In July of last year, the Fernald Law Group served Hall’s district director, Heather Hutt, in San Pedro, claiming the staffer was authorized to accept the documents on Hall’s behalf, according to court documents.

Two months later, the firm sent Hall’s district office a letter requesting he produce records requested in the subpoena, according to court records.

Fernald attempted to make the court compel Hall to comply with the deposition, but a hearing set for last December was canceled after Huff contested the service had been done improperly, according to an email exchange between the attorneys shown to The Times by Hall’s campaign.

After Fernald agreed to take the matter off the court calendar, Huff forwarded the email to Hall along with the message, “see below … and he drops the mike.”

Fernald told The Times it was “very difficult to nail down a time and a place” to serve Hall after the canceled hearing. Until election night.

“This election night thing came down out of nowhere,” he said.

In addition to the suit by the tenants, the owners of the Alameda Court development filled an unlawful-detainer lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court seeking to evict Hall in November.

A lawyer for the owners said in the suit that Hall was past-due on $4,800 in rent and owed $5,000 in utilities. But the suit was dropped two weeks later.

Doug Baker, listed in court documents as the property manager for Alameda Court, said in an interview before the suit seeking Hall’s eviction was dropped that as far as he knew, “Isadore Hall has paid in full.”

Baker refused to answer further questions and directed a reporter to David Robinson, a disbarred attorney who was serving as the case manager in the lawsuit between the owners and the tenants. In an interview, also before the suit was dismissed, Robinson said, “we reached an agreement with Sen. Hall.”

Shirley Kenninger, an attorney representing Alameda Court at the time, said she could not offer specifics but that “the action against Isadore Hall is going to be dismissed.”

After the unlawful-detainer lawsuit was filled, Hall’s campaign provided The Times with copies of cashed rent checks written by Hall to Alameda Court LLC between 2010 and 2015.

The suit against Hall was dropped Dec. 7.

Asked about the two suits last fall, Hall told The Times that he was current in all his payments and denied receiving special treatment.

“Brother, I don’t receive any special treatment,” he said, speaking to a reporter from his garage at Alameda Court. “Because I am black and I am a senator doesn’t mean I get any special treatment.”

Barragán’s campaign has followed the court case closely, issuing news releases and posting some of the court documents on a website along with other opposition research on Hall. It has been a competitive and nasty race.

Barragán finished second in the primary, about 19 points behind Hall in a crowded contest with eight other candidates.

The night of the primary, Barragán’s staff gloated about the news.

javier.panzar@latimes.com

Twitter: jpanzar

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