As he has done scores of times before, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart last week signed off on a search warrant.
Unlike the countless others he has inked in his four-year judicial career, this one, allowing FBI agents to search Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach home of former President Donald Trump, ignited a political firestorm.
Major news outlets from Newsweek to Politico to Fox News to the London-based Independent, wrote stories, analyzing the 60-year-old Reinhart’s political contributions, his choice of clients, and other aspects of his professional life. Some reporters falsely claimed he was a Trump appointee.
In response to Reinhart’s newfound notoriety, his biography and his contact information were removed from the website of the U.S. District of Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Officials didn’t respond to an email asking why such unusual steps were taken. But Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said it was in response to threats Reinhart has received.
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“I hear he's getting threats, that his information was taken down from the judicial directory, and he's the object of vitriol from supporters of the former president,” Aronberg said.
Those who worked with Reinhart during the decade he worked as a federal prosecutor in West Palm Beach said they are stunned by the misinformation and the malice being heaped on a magistrate who was simply doing his job.
“I just think it’s a total misdirection,” said Roger Stefin, who retired in 2020 after spending 32 years as a prosecutor for the South Florida U.S. Attorney’s office. “There’s no political equation that goes into (approving a search warrant).”
What is a magistrate?
Magistrates, who are hired by district judges to help them with routine matters, simply decide whether law enforcement agents have established probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the search would uncover evidence of that crime.
"Being a magistrate judge is not a political position," Stefin said. "It's not whether someone's a Democrat or Republican."
Ellen Cohen, who worked with Reinhart when he was a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a magistrate, described her former colleague as meticulous.
“Every time I brought a search warrant to him, and I brought many, he read it, digested it and asked questions,” said Cohen, who retired recently after a 41-year career as a prosecutor. “He wasn’t someone who would sign off on it just because the government presented it to him.”
Like all magistrates, Reinhart has undoubtedly reviewed hundreds of search warrants since he joined the judicial ranks in 2018 when he was selected over 63 other lawyers who applied for the post.
“That’s what he does every day whether it’s a crime of drug dealing, gun sales or whether it’s having possession of government documents or high-security documents you’re not supposed to have,” Cohen said.
More on Bruce Reinhart: West Palm Beach attorney Bruce Reinhart appointed U.S. magistrate
Since the warrant involved the unprecedented request to search the home of a former president, she said the warrant would have been vetted at the highest levels of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland. Garland said Thursday he "personally approved the decision to seek a search warrant" while announcing that the Justice Department had filed a motion to unseal the warrant and property receipt from the search.
But, she said, even knowing that, Reinhart wouldn’t have simply rubber-stamped it.
“He reviewed it and did what he is legally responsible to do," Stefin agreed. "He found probable cause based on the allegations in the affidavit."
Tama Kudman, a West Palm Beach defense attorney, echoed Stefin’s claims. “Knowing him, he would never let any politics or anything else influence his decision,” she said.
Judge Bruce Reinhart has ties to Jeffrey Epstein case
Many of the news stories about Reinhart have focused on his representation of associates of serial molester Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in 2019 in a New York City jail cell after being accused of trafficking dozens of young women for sex.
As part of the long and complicated case that began a decade before Epstein’s death, Reinhart was named in a lawsuit attorney Bradley Edwards filed on behalf of some of the Palm Beach financier's young accusers.
In it, they claimed federal prosecutors violated their rights by not telling them a plea deal had been approved that would allow Epstein to plead guilty to state prostitution charges to avoid federal prosecution.
Reaction to search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago: Reaction to search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago: Anger from supporters, caution from critics
In court papers, Edwards claimed Reinhart used his position as a federal prosecutor to curry favor with Epstein. Then, when Reinhart left the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he immediately “joined Epstein’s payroll” by representing the politically-connected financier’s pilots and women who were accused of helping him recruit teenagers for sex, Edwards said in the lawsuit.
Saying the “unfounded factual and legal accusations” hurt his reputation, Reinhart in 2011 asked U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra to sanction Edwards. Marra declined, saying the dispute had nothing to do with whether federal prosecutors violated the women’s rights.
“The Court cannot permit anyone slighted by allegations in court pleadings to intervene and conduct mini-trials to vindicate their reputation,” Marra wrote, in denying Reinhart’s request.
Cohen called Edwards' allegations against Reinhart offensive. “The whole idea that he quit (the U.S. Attorney’s Office) so he could become a lapdog for Epstein is nonsense,” she said.
Reinhart quit, after a nearly two-decade career as a federal prosecutor in West Palm Beach and Washington, D.C., to become a criminal defense attorney.
“Good for him,” she said. “Just because you represent a murderer doesn’t mean you condone the murder.”
Reinhart, however, did acknowledge he encountered some ethical problems when he briefly represented then-Palm Beach County Commissioner Mary McCarty before she was formally charged in 2009 with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud by federal prosecutors.
When he stepped off McCarty’s case, Reinhart told The Palm Beach Post that his former bosses told him that if he continued to represent McCarty he would be violating rules prohibiting him from representing defendants on matters he had dealt with as a federal prosecutor.
While working as a criminal defense lawyer, Reinhart occasionally gave to political candidates, mostly Democrats, campaign finance records show.
In 2008, Reinhart contributed $1,000 to future Democratic President Barack Obama's election. That same year, he donated $1,000 to Jupiter attorney Bryan Miller, who lost his bid for the state house. In 2012, he gave $250 to Aronberg to boost the Democrat's first campaign for state attorney.
In 2015, Reinhart donated $500 to former Republican Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's failed presidential campaign. The Republican nomination went to Trump.
Judge Reinhart is a Princeton graduate who got his law degree at Penn
Reinhart graduated from Princeton University with a degree in civil engineering and got his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He worked as a trial attorney in the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice and was a senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of the Treasury before joining the federal prosecutor’s office in West Palm Beach.
Two days before he was appointed as a magistrate, his wife Carolyn Bell, also a former prosecutor, was appointed to the Palm Beach County Circuit Court bench by then-Gov. Rick Scott. She currently presides in juvenile court.
Like others, Aronberg said the uproar about the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago and the attacks on Reinhart are unfortunate.
“The whole backlash against him is unfair, and it’s really damaging for our judicial system to have people believe that when a judge issues a search warrant, it must be for some nefarious reason,” Aronberg said.
But, he said, there is no evidence any strings were pulled or corners cut.
“By all indications, everyone involved in the search warrant process followed the law," he continued. "There’s a process in place, and it was followed. Probable cause needed to be found. It was.”
Palm Beach Post crime and safety reporter Hannah Phillips contributed to this story.
Jane Musgrave covers federal, civil and criminal courts for The Palm Beach Post. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Judge Bruce Reinhart signed off on search warrant of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago