Holt v. Virginia

LOCATION: Longshore and Warehouse Union

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 381 US 131 (1965)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1965 / Apr 28, 1965
DECIDED: May 17, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Holt v. Virginia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1965 in Holt v. Virginia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1965 in Holt v. Virginia

Earl Warren:

Number 464, L. W. Holt et al., Petitioner, versus Virginia.

Mr. Karpatkin.

Marvin M. Karpatkin:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors may it please the Court.

This case is here this afternoon, because two practicing attorneys in the Commonwealth of Virginia have been summarily convicted of contempt of court and their conviction is sustained by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia for filing and arguing a legitimate motion for a change of venue.

Although, both of the petitioners are attorneys, Messrs.

Holt and Dawley, this particular motion to change venue was made in the proceeding where Mr. Dawley was the litigant and he was being then and there represented by his law partner, Mr. Holt as attorney.

It is our principal claim that since this motion was wholly legitimate, there is nothing whatsoever contemptuous in the record concerning this motion to change the venue.

That these contempt convictions are deprivations of constitutional rights under the Due Process Clause of the right of the litigant to have the affective assistance of counsel and of the right of the attorney to vigorous advocacy in his client’s cause, in both cases by the same improper judicial act.

Furthermore, since the Court saw fit to act summarily, without resemblance or any scintilla of a hearing with just no hearing at all and since this was not one of those special situations where this Court has held, summary contempt proceedings are constitutionally permissible, we urge that this was a further and separate denial of due process of law.

The facts maybe stated rather briefly.

Messrs. Dawley and Holt were two members of the three-man-partnership practicing in Norfolk, Virginia in the fall of 1961.

Litigation pending in the Circuit Court of the City of Hopewell involved clients of the firm, the case of Hopewell News Inc. against Harris.

This was a defamation case.

The defendants were represented by Mr. Dawley in Court.

There was an allegation in the record that the purpose of this defamation case was to destroy an organization in the City of Hopewell called “The Hopewell Improvement Association”, an organization consisting of many of the Negro citizens of the City of Hopewell dedicated to -- efforts to bring about the constitutional requirement of racial desegregation in accordance with law and in accordance with decisions of this Court.

And as an allegation in the record, that the purpose of this lawsuit brought by the Hopewell News alleged in the record to be the only newspaper in the City of Hopewell, was a reflection of a considerable amount of community tensions and hostility extent in the Hopewell area at that time where there were an effect lined up on the side of the plaintiffs in this Hopewell News against Harris litigation.

What was in effect the pro-segregationist power structure of that area and the defendants consisted of Mr. Harris and others, leading members of the Negro Community, officers and active persons in the Hopewell Improvement Association generally represented by the firm of Jordan, Dawley, and Holt and in this particular defamation case represented by Mr. Dawley.

In any event, Your Honors, the case was called for trial on October 05, 1961, the defamation case and on October 06, 1961, a dismissal was entered on the record.

Following this dismissal, the presiding judge, the Honorable Carlton E. Holladay subjected Mr. Dawley to a series of questions, which either were not answered or not answered to the judge’s satisfaction.

I believe in one instance, Mr. Dawley stated he wanted some time to consider whether he should answer or what his answer should be and this led somewhat later on the 11th of December 1961, to Judge Holladay issuing a show cause order directing Mr. Dawley to appear in show cause why he should not be held guilty of contempt of court for this refusal to answer Judge Holladay’s questions.

Subsequently, on the 27th of --


Marvin M. Karpatkin:

The questions Mr. Justice Harlan, related to the inability of the bailiff of the Court to serve process on some of the defendants who were Mr. Dawley’s clients.


Marvin M. Karpatkin:

There is a suggestion but the record is hardly clear that the non-appearance of these defendants, who were called as witnesses by the plaintiff, had something to do with the dismissal of the litigation, but it is not clear from the record since the questioning did not proceed and indeed since no hearing was ever granted and so we don’t know what would or would not have transpired on the record, had these questions been further gone into the hearing.

On the 27th of December 1961, Mr. Dawley filed a motion to disqualify Judge Holladay.

This motion was filed by Mr. Dawley pro se.

After due deliberation on the 28th of December, the motion was denied.

Then on the 17th of January, Mr. Dawley again pro se filed the instant venue change motion, which appears in the record.

This motion came on for hearing, I should say, Your Honors I'm sorry, the contempt trial came on for hearing on the 30th of January 1962.