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Hollar v. Government of Virgin Islands

argued: April 18, 1988.


Appeal from the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Division of St. Thomas and St. John, D.C. Civil Nos. 84-5, 84-38.

Seitz, Sloviter and Becker Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz


SEITZ, Circuit Judge.


In 1956, in response to a petition of the Virgin Islands Bar Association ("VIBA"), the District Court of the Virgin Islands ordered integration of the bar. Rule 51 of the District Court of the Virgin Islands provides in part that VIBA "shall be an integrated bar association [and] [n]o attorney may practice law in the Virgin Islands who is not an active or government member of the Virgin Islands Bar Association. . . ." V.I. Code Ann. tit. V App. V R. 51.

Appellants ("the Hollar group"), four members of the Virgin Islands bar, brought an action in the district court against the defendants, VIBA, the Government of the Virgin Islands ("Government"), and the District Court of the Virgin Islands ("District Court") (collectively "defendants"), asserting that the integrated status of VIBA and the increase in the licensing fees assessed by the government*fn1 violated the Hollar group's rights. In addition to complaints regarding the assessments of dues and increased license fees, the Hollar group asserted that VIBA has engaged in political and ultra vires activities and/or activities having no relation to a general welfare objective. These allegedly improper activities include: 1) taking positions on proposed Virgin Islands constitutions; 2) disregarding some of its by-law provisions, e.g., failing to appoint a nominating committee; and 3) using dues to pay for a pleasure cruise for selected members.

Following argument on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court, through a specially assigned judge,*fn2 entered an order granting the defendants' motions as to all claims and denied plaintiffs' motion. This appeal by the Hollar group followed. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291 (1982). All of the issues presented in this appeal are legal ones, and our review is plenary.


The Hollar group asserts that the district court erred in holding that Rule 51 is constitutionally valid and otherwise enforceable. Specifically, that group argues that the integration of VIBA was improperly accomplished and that, in any event, it impermissibly infringes on the group's first amendment rights.*fn3

A. The Integration Order

It is the position of the Hollar group that there are two fatal flaws in the district court order integrating the bar. It first asserts that Rule 51 is defective because it fails to articulate a welfare objective for the integration. The order of integration, however, stated that the court was "of the opinion that integration of the Bar [was] in the best interest of the Court and the Bar and the administration of justice in the Virgin Islands." Thus, even assuming that a welfare objective must be expressed when integrating a bar, Rule 51 is not defective when read in conjunction with the integration order, despite the generality of the language in the order. After all, the language, in the best interest of the administration of justice, is necessary to capture the breadth of permissible activities of a bar association.

Second, the Hollar group argues that integration of the bar requires some input by the legislature. It cites Lathrop v. Donohue, 367 U.S. 820, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1191, 81 S. Ct. 1826 (1961) for this proposition. The group's reliance on Lathrop is misplaced. The district court correctly pointed out that the Lathrop Court did not hold that legislative input is necessary. Additionally, the district court noted that other courts have allowed judicial integration of the bar with no legislative input. E.g., In re Unification of New Hampshire Bar, 109 N.H. 260, 248 A.2d 709 (1968)(negative and inconclusive action by state legislature relating to bill to integrate bar did not affect power of court to order integration without legislative input). Given the judiciary's inherent power to regulate and supervise attorneys within its jurisdiction, we conclude that lack of legislative input does not render defective the integration of the bar by judicial action. Accordingly, we conclude that the order of integration and Rule 51 are not technically flawed.

B. Validity of the Integrated Bar

Although the arguments advanced by the Hollar group leave much to be desired analytically, we are satisfied that its first argument amounts to a facial attack on the constitutionality of the order and by-laws*fn4 , which, together, create the integrated bar. It contends that the court-imposed requirement that the members pay dues to the Association as a condition to their practicing law violates, without more, their first amendment rights of freedom of speech and association. The VlBA responds that under the controlling ...

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