Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart facing firestorm for signing Mar-a-Lago search warrant. Who is he?

Jane Musgrave
Palm Beach Post

As he has done scores of times before, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart on Monday 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 outletsincluding Politico, Fox News and the London-based Independent, wrote stories, analyzing the Ivy-educated, 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.

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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.

While the issuance of the warrant has been the subject of broad speculation and has touched off a cascade of angry responses from Trump's allies, few know what's in the document Reinhart signed.

What is known is it contained details of what the FBI was after. Sources familiar with the matter have since confirmed to USA TODAY that the investigation is related to allegations Trump removed classified documents from the White House when he left office and brought them to his South Florida residence. Neither the Justice Department nor the FBI have commented, or released details. 

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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 served as a federal prosecutor in West Palm Beach said they are stunned by the misinformation and the malice being hurled at a magistrate who was simply doing his job.

Former Boynton Beach police officer Michael Brown, left, leaves Federal Court with his attorney, Bruce Reinhart, after being sentenced to three years probation, 150 community service and 180 days electronic monitoring Tuesday, February 27, 2018. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

“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, must determine 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 applied for the position in 2018 and was selected over other lawyers who applied.

“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.

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Since the warrant involved the unprecedented request to search the home of a former president, she said the warrant likely would have been vetted at the highest levels of the Justice Department, including Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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.

FILE - This photo provided by the New York State Sex Offender Registry, shows Jeffrey Epstein on March 28, 2017.

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.

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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.

Boynton Beach police officer Michael Brown, right, and his attorney, Bruce E. Reinhart, arrive at the federal courthouse for Brown's trial Thursday, November 2, 2017, in which he  is accused of accused of violating the civil rights of a Boynton Beach man who was beaten up after a chase. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

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.”

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 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.

Carolyn Bell, Assistant US Attorney, arrives at the federal courthouse with her husband, attorney Bruce Reinhart, Friday, April 28, 2017.  Dr. Salomon Melgen is facing 76 counts charging him with stealing up to $105 million from Medicare between 2008 and 2013. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

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.