A Circuit Court judge in Portsmouth, Va., ordered yesterday that a recall election be held Dec. 15 for Portsmouth Mayor James W. Holley III after hearing that 9,171 registered voters had signed petitions seeking Holley's ouster.

"I do not believe that 9,171 people can be wrong," Judge William H. Oast Jr. said at the end of a nearly three-hour hearing. Supporters of the recall drive needed the signatures of 8,869 registered voters in the city for a special election to be held.

James A. Overton, Holley's attorney, argued that many of the signatures were improper and the recall petition should be dismissed. He said he will appeal the judge's decision and try to block the election.

The recall drive began in July because a police investigation showed that Holley's fingerprints were on hate mail sent to community leaders. Holley, a 60-year-old dentist and the city's first black mayor, denied any wrongdoing and rejected City Council's request that he resign.

Oast said the recall election would be held if Holley does not resign in five days. After the hearing, the mayor told reporters he has no plans to quit.