Taylor v. Hayes Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 


Case Description 

Taylor v. Hayes is a civil case that went up to the Supreme Court in which the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) contested Kentucky attorney Dan Taylor’s four-and-a half-year jail sentence for contempt of court.

Dan Taylor, an attorney in Louisville, Kentucky, represented Narvel Tinsley, Jr., one of two Black men accused of killing two white police officers. On October 29, 1970, after the jury returned its verdict, Judge John P. Hayes, without notice, without specification of charges, and without permitting Mr. Taylor to either speak in his own behalf or be represented by counsel, sentenced Mr. Taylor to four-and-a-half years in jail for contempt of court which allegedly took place during Mr. Tinsley’s trial.

Judge Hayes refused bail and even refused to make himself available to Mr. Taylor’s counsel to hear a bail application. When the Kentucky Court of Appeals ordered a bail hearing, Judge Hayes not only denied bail but denied Mr. Taylor permission to be present at the hearing. Bail finally set at the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Mr. Taylor was released from jail.

On November 4, 1971, Judge Hayes entered an order disbarring Mr. Taylor from further practice in his court. Appeals were filed in both the contempt and disbarment actions, and on March 23, 1973, the Kentucky Court of Appeals set aside the disbarment order on grounds that “it had exclusive authority to discipline or disbar attorneys and that, in any event, the rule in Kentucky since 1917 had been that suspension from practice was not permissible for criminal contempt.”

However, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ordered that the contempt sentences should be served concurrently rather than consecutively which, because it reduced the sentences to six months, denied Mr. Taylor the right to a trial by jury.

On June 15, 1973, the Kentucky Court of Appeals denied a petition for rehearing, but stayed the contempt sentence for nine days to allow for the filing of a petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S Supreme Court. The petition was filed in the Kentucky Court of Appeals asking for a further stay of the contempt sentence.

On the morning of September 17, 1973, while Mr. Taylor was in the Jefferson Circuit Court in connection with a criminal case on which he was counsel, he was, without prior notice, arrested pursuant to an order from Judge Hayes. Later that day the Kentucky Court of Appeals refused a further stay of the contempt sentence. An application to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was made immediately, and on September 19, he signed an order releasing Mr. Taylor on bail pending final disposition of the case by the Supreme Court.

The petition was granted certiorari by the Court and argued on March 18, 1974. The petition raised fundamental issues of due process as the right to a jury trial in contempt cases, judicial disqualification in contempt proceedings, and what constitutes contempt under the Constitution.

On June 26, 1974, the Supreme Court reversed Mr. Taylor’s contempt conviction, ruling that Mr. Taylor had been denied due process when the judge summarily sentenced him for contempt of court without giving him notice of the charges against him or a reasonable opportunity to be heard. The case was returned to the State Court for a new trial before a different judge.

At the remand hearing, Judge Robert H. Spraggens dismissed five of the eight contempt charges. Mr. Taylor was convicted on the remaining three, but as no sentence was imposed, no appeal was taken.