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United States v. Handler


decided: April 3, 1973.


Feinberg, Mulligan and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge:

Allan A. Handler appeals from a summary order of civil contempt entered against him as a grand jury witness on December 1, 1972 in the Southern District of New York by Murray I. Gurfein, District Judge, ordering that he be confined pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1826(a) (1970) for refusal to answer questions before a grand jury after having been granted immunity under 18 U.S.C. §§ 6002 and 6003 (1970).

The issues on appeal are directed exclusively to the procedure which led to Handler's current confinement for contempt. He claims a denial of due process at various points in that procedure. We find such claims to have been afterthoughts which even as forethoughts would have been unproductive. We affirm.


On August 22, 1972, a special grand jury was empanelled in the Southern District of New York to investigate gambling activities in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1955 (1970).

On October 30, Handler, then serving a prison term on a state gambling charge, was subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury. He refused to answer any questions, invoking his privilege against self-incrimination.

On October 31, upon application by the government, Judge Weinfeld entered an order granting immunity to Handler under 18 U.S.C. §§ 6002 and 6003, thereby precluding the use against him in any criminal proceeding of his testimony before the grand jury.*fn1

On November 1, despite the order granting him immunity, Handler again refused to answer any questions before the grand jury. He continued his refusal on November 2 when, accompanied by counsel, he was brought before Judge Weinfeld.

Handler next appeared before the grand jury on November 22. He again asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer each question asked of him before the grand jury. The government then applied to Judge Gurfein, before whom the grand jury had appeared, to adjudge Handler in contempt and to order him confined in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1826(a) (1970).*fn2

On November 29, following submission by the government of a brief in response to the court's inquiry as to the proper procedure,*fn3 Judge Gurfein entertained the government's contempt application. Handler, in the presence of his counsel, was given an opportunity to state why he should not be held in contempt. In addition to a statement by his counsel, Handler himself responded in pertinent part:

"Before I went up to the Grand Jury, two Federal Agents. . . told me that if I testified in the Grand Jury pertaining to this case, the people, whatever it might be, that they felt that I was in some danger and they would move me to a different part of the country, if I wanted to, relocate me.

All my family ties, and so on, are in that community. Excuse my expression, but I would have to -- based on what the Federal Agents told me -- I would have to almost be a little paranoid for the rest of my life. . . .

Because of this, I don't want to get myself involved in something like this and look back over my shoulder for the rest of my life based on what the agents told me, that is the reason I didn't testify."

Judge Gurfein informed Handler that he had not stated a legal excuse, and that his refusal to testify constituted a wilful contempt. Handler was then given one further opportunity to answer questions. He persisted in his unwillingness to testify. Judge Gurfein adjudged him in contempt. He was ordered confined until such time as he is willing to testify; but his confinement is not to exceed the expiration of the grand jury term plus extensions, and in no event is it to exceed sixteen months.*fn4 An order so providing was entered on December 1, 1972.


Handler's first challenge to his civil contempt confinement is that he was not given prior notice of the nature of the proceedings against him. The essence of his contention is that at no time was he formally apprised that he was being charged with civil contempt, nor was he ever notified of the specific charge against him. We reject this claim as factually incorrect.

Handler's reliance on Parker v. United States, 153 F.2d 66 (1 Cir. 1946), is misplaced. There the court said that "the respondent is entitled to due notice of the nature of the proceeding against him -- whether of criminal or civil contempt." 153 F.2d at 70. Nowhere in that opinion or in any other case that has come to our attention, however, has it been said that "due notice" means formal notice. See, e.g., In re Guzzardi, 74 F.2d 671, 673 (2 Cir. 1935) ("It is of at least some practical consequence to the respondent in such a proceeding to know whether he is charged with crime. . . . We do not say that this must be known at the outset; it is enough if it becomes manifest in season. . . .") (L. Hand, J.) (emphasis added). Here, there can be little doubt that Handler had actual notice of the nature of the proceedings against him. As early as November 2 (the date of his third refusal to testify), Handler's counsel informed Judge Weinfeld as follows:

"Your honor, I represent the defendant and have gone over the situation with him. He persists in his position and refuses to testify in spite of the grant of immunity. I have informed him that if he does not, your Honor has the power to punish him for contempt and to give him a sentence up to possibly eighteen months or maybe more, and the defendant is still adamant in his refusal to testify."

Following Judge Weinfeld's inquiry directed to Handler himself, he confirmed that he was aware that a wilful contempt was being committed.

Two important conclusions may be drawn from that exchange. First, it is clear that Handler had actual knowledge of the specific acts for which he was exposing himself to contempt. Second, counsel's reference to "eighteen months" indicates an awareness of the applicability of Section 1826(a) -- the federal civil contempt statute. The record also establishes beyond question that Handler knew that any punishment would be remedial only, in that it would cease immediately upon his agreeing to testify.

It should also be borne in mind that, since Section 1826(a) specifically provides for summary contempt procedure, certain concessions to ideal process necessarily must be made. "The same considerations which justify the holding of civil contempt proceedings, absent the safeguards of indictment and jury. . ., warrant reasonable expedition of such proceedings. . . ." United States v. Weinberg, 439 F.2d 743, 746 (9 Cir. 1971). See also Shillitani v. United States, 384 U.S. 364, 370-71, 16 L. Ed. 2d 622, 86 S. Ct. 1531 (1966).

In the light of Handler's actual knowledge of the nature of the contempt proceedings against him, we hold that he was not denied due process by the failure to provide formal notice.


Handler's next claim goes to the conduct of the contempt hearing itself. In particular, he argues that, not only did the court fail to require any proof of the legitimacy of the grand jury investigation or of the materiality to that investigation of the questions asked of Handler, but that the court in fact refused to entertain the government's offer of such proof.*fn5 His contention that such conduct of the contempt hearing constituted a denial of due process is based largely on his reading of United States v. Dinsio, 468 F.2d 1392 (9 Cir. 1972), and In re Vericker, 446 F.2d 244 (2 Cir. 1971). We find both cases readily distinguishable. We hold that Handler was not denied a fair hearing.

Section 1826(a) provides for confinement of a recalcitrant witness where the refusal to testify is " without just cause shown." (emphasis added). That language seems rather clearly to place on the witness the burden of coming forward with "just cause". In Gelbard v. United States, 408 U.S. 41, 33 L. Ed. 2d 179, 92 S. Ct. 2357 (1972), for example, the Court held that the government is required to respond to an allegation by a recalcitrant grand jury witness that the questions asked were based on information obtained by an illegal wiretap. Cf. Bacon v. United States, 466 F.2d 1196 (9 Cir. 1972). Similarly in Dinsio, the witness' refusal to submit finger and palm print exemplars to a grand jury was based on specific constitutional objections to the request. In the present case, on the other hand, Handler completely failed to make a prima facie showing of "just cause".

Vericker more directly addresses itself to the specific issue raised by Handler. There immunity had been granted under 18 U.S.C. § 2514 (1970) which provides for transactional immunity for witnesses in cases involving certain offenses. We reversed the civil contempt judgment on the ground that there was nothing in the questions asked to indicate that the grand jury was investigating any crime within the permissible grant of immunity. Here no such claim has been made; and, under the less restrictive provisions of Sections 6002 and 6003, none apparently could be made. In Vericker, moreover, we made the point which we regard as dispositive here:

"The decisions are virtually unanimous in holding or assuming that the witness may challenge whether the subject matter of a grand jury investigation is consonant with the statutory authorization for the grant of immunity and that, upon such a challenge, the Government must make at least a modest showing that it is." 446 F.2d at 247 (emphasis added).

Handler having failed to assert a challenge of that sort, we hold that he was not denied a fair hearing by the court's failure to require the government to prove legitimacy or materiality.


Handler claims that in two other respects the procedure which led to his confinement denied him due process of law: the denial of a jury trial on the contempt charge, and the absence of counsel at the hearing at which immunity was granted. We find no merit in either claim.

The question whether there is a right to trial by jury on a civil contempt charge was settled in Shillitani v. United States, supra, 384 U.S. at 370-71, where the Court said, "the conditional nature of the imprisonment -- based entirely upon the contemnor's continued defiance -- justifies holding civil contempt proceedings absent the safeguards of indictment and jury, . . . provided that the usual due process requirements are met." We find unpersuasive the distinction between Shillitani and the instant case suggested by Handler. While it is true that Shillitani did not involve an order of confinement with a specified maximum term, it is also true that in the instant case the "keys to the jailhouse" are as much in the contemnor's pocket as in Shillitani -- the confinement, in other words, is equally conditional. We hold that Handler was not entitled to a jury trial on the civil contempt charge. Bacon v. United States, 446 F.2d 667, 668 (9 Cir. 1971), vacated on other grounds, 408 U.S. 915, 92 S. Ct. 2501, 33 L. Ed. 2d 328 (1972).

Similarly, Handler's contention that he was denied assistance of counsel at the October 31 hearing at which he was granted immunity rests on a misplaced reliance on United States v. Sun Kung Kang, 468 F.2d 1368 (9 Cir. 1972). There the court reversed a civil contempt order which was entered after the district court had refused to grant an indigent defendant's request for representation by appointed counsel at the contempt proceeding. In the instant case, the only point at which Handler was without counsel was at the benign stage where immunity was granted. We have found no authority, and we perceive no reason, to support Handler's claim that the absence of counsel at the time immunity was granted constituted a deprivation of any constitutional right.*fn6 While the better practice would be to have a witness represented in such a hearing, the record shows that Handler was informed on October 30 of his right to be represented by counsel at the grand jury proceedings and that he was accompanied by counsel at all times following the grant of immunity.

We have carefully considered all of Handler's claims and we find them -- separately and in the aggregate -- to be without merit.*fn7

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