In re Spencer

LOCATION: Riverbed of the Arkansas River

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)

CITATION: 397 US 817 (1970)
ARGUED: Apr 28, 1970
DECIDED: May 04, 1970

Facts of the case


Media for In re Spencer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 28, 1970 in In re Spencer

Warren E. Burger:

513, we'll hear arguments in the matter of Dan A. Spencer.

Now as to number 4, Younger against Harris, we'll ask counsel to standby for a while and perhaps at the half break when we're certain that we are going to have this case completed with no emergencies then counsel could be excused at 2:30 if no emergencies arise.

Mr. Wulf, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Melvin L. Wulf:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This contempt -- conviction of an attorney is here on appeal from the Louisiana Supreme Court.

There -- jurisdiction was postponed pending argument on the merits and there are some jurisdictional problems.

Before discussing those, I would like to describe the facts of the conviction itself because of the facts of the conviction also involved some of the jurisdictional problems.

The appellant in this case, Mr. Spencer is an attorney, member of the Louisiana Bar who appeared before a Judge Dixon, a District Court judge in the Louisiana courts representing one, Mr. Hopkins in a hearing in a divorce case.

It was an uncontested divorce suit and the purpose of the hearing was, according to Louisiana practice, to confirm default in Mr. Hopkins favor.

After testimony was taken by -- was given by Mr. Hopkins and witness on his behalf, Judge Dixon denied the divorce because the testimony didn't show abandonment by the spouse but showed only that Mr. Hopkins and Mrs. Hopkins have had argument and that they decided that one of them should leave and Mrs. Hopkins was the one to leave.

The following day after the denial of the divorce, the appellant filed a motion for a new trial on behalf of his client Mr. Hopkins on the ground that the decision by Judge Dixon was erroneous in fact and in law.

Simultaneously with filing the motion for a new trial, he also filed a motion to recuse Judge Dixon.

The motion to recuse which he filed was set out in the back of our brief.

Warren E. Burger:

Did that motion contain any new matter that he hadn't known the day before or the week before?

Melvin L. Wulf:

The record doesn't show, Your Honor.

Warren E. Burger:

Well, is it reasonable, can any inferences be drawn as to whether this was some discovery overnight or whether it was a new idea after he learned that he had received an adverse decision?

Melvin L. Wulf:

Oh, I don't know what one -- I believe that one cannot draw inferences from the record because there isn't anything in the record at all to suggest when this impeachment proceeding was initiated, if it was initiated and was initiated and what the -- what any of the facts surrounding that proceeding were.

What if any of the facts are on that petition were but the --

Potter Stewart:

But we don't even know whether this is true or false, is that correct?

Melvin L. Wulf:

We don't know --

Potter Stewart:

The factual statement?

Melvin L. Wulf:

We don't know it's true or false, Your Honor.

One of the reasons we don't know whether it's true or false is that the judge who sat on the contempt proceeding itself the year later wouldn't allow any such testimony to be entered.

Now the record is ambiguous as to whether any such testimony was attempted to be put in by the appellant but it becomes perfectly clear from the statement of Judge Williams himself that he was the judge who sat on the contempt hearing that -- and this is contained in the record of the case and also in the back of the jurisdictional statement.

He, Judge Williams in opposing Mr. Spencer's application for writs of certiorari to Louisiana Supreme Court said in and I quote, well, I'm sorry I don't quote, but in his application with -- in his opposition to the application which is in the record, Judge Williams said himself that he refused to admit any such evidence concerning the truth of the assertion in the motion to recuse.

Potter Stewart:

And we don't know if Mr. Hopkins was a lawyer or what he was so far as the record goes?

Melvin L. Wulf:

We don't know, I don't -- I think Mr. Hopkins was not a lawyer.

Potter Stewart:

And we -- do we know and we don't know anything about Mr. Charles Anderson, III?

Melvin L. Wulf:

No sir, less in about him than about that of Mr. Hopkins.

Potter Stewart:

And do we know anything -- suppose we could take judicial notice, although I certainly don't have any actual notice of how in New Orleans you get a judge remove from office as being unfit therefore or for any other reason.