PORTSMOUTH, VA., JULY 29 -- The Portsmouth City Council met in a closed-door emergency session late today and voted to ask the U.S. attorney's office in Norfolk to determine whether Mayor James W. Holley III was involved in sending hate mail.

Holley, a Portsmouth dentist, and six other council members attended the special meeting and he cast the only dissenting vote.

The council's action followed published reports today indicating that two handwriting analysts had concluded that Holley's handwriting matched some hate-mail samples. The handwriting analysts were hired by The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star.

The hate mail was sent last year to seven black community leaders and a newspaper editor.

After the meeting, Holley, who has refused to submit handwriting samples to city prosecutors, said he respected council's right to take the action.

"I still maintain that I'm innocent and that I'm not involved in any way," Holley told reporters.

Two weeks ago, Commonwealth's Attorney Johnny Morrison released a report saying that Holley's fingerprints were positively identified on three pieces of hate mail. However, Morrison said he could not bring criminal charges because sending obscene or racist mail is not a crime under Virginia law.

City Attorney Steven Lieberman said he would ask the U.S. attorney's office to "look into the matter to determine if there've been violations of federal law."

Lieberman said he did not believe that the handwriting analysis obtained by the newspapers would be included in evidence presented to federal prosecutors. However, "whether the U.S. attorney's office will seek that information, that will be up to them," Lieberman added.

The newspapers reported that David Crown, a Fairfax forensic scientist, matched samples of Holley's handwriting with messages sent to five people.

The second analyst, Lawrence Farmer, a Virginia Beach man who is qualified to testify about handwriting samples in state courts, said he could identify Holley's handwriting in at least one of the messages, the newspapers said.

Farmer, contacted today, declined to discuss the matter.

The newspapers reported that Crown and Farmer were asked to compare the samples of Holley's handwriting with 24 pieces of hate mail. Neither analyst was told of the other's findings until both men had completed their examinations.

Holley's critics, including the six other council members, have called for his resignation, but he has refused. A move to recall him is under way.