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How do Virginia Courts work?

In the state of Virginia, the Supreme Court acts as the highest legal authority. As a result, it has the power to oversee and review all decisions made by the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court can then jump in on any legal questions, conflicts, and precedents, when needed. However, the Court of Appeals if not without power of its own, as it carries out a similar function over the state’s lower courts, when one party appeals a decision. These lower courts are made up of the 95 superior and trial courts across Virginia’s 95 counties. Other tiers of court include Circuit Courts, General District Courts, and Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Courts.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

There are a number of differences in the structure of small claims cases and civil cases in the state of Virginia, from the type of case to the value of money at stake. Civil courts in Virginia deal with cases in which the petitioner is looking for over $250,000. There are nearly 175,000 of these cases annually across the state. However, non-monetary cases revolving around disputes over property, restraining orders, and name changes can still be handled by the civil court. In comparison, the small claims court deals with cases in which the claimant is seeking $5,000 or under. There are around 100,000 of these cases each year across Virginia. Examples of these cases can include disputes over loans, warranties, repairs, deposits, and more, as long as the value remains below $5,000. The small claims court can also order a defendant into an action, such as paying a fee.

Appeals and court limits

Appeals and court limits work differently between the small claims courts and the civil courts in Virginia. For example, the small claims courts do not allow pretrial discovery, despite the fact that civil courts do. Small claims courts also charge a filing fee of between $30 and $100 for each claim, compared to the civil court’s filing fee of between $180 and $320. The small claims courts in Virginia give each party 30-70 days to complete their cases, while the civil courts allow up to 120 days. A person may hire a lawyer to represent them and file papers on their behalf in the civil courts, however, neither are allowed in small claims cases. Only the sued party/defendant may appeal a decision in small claims court, while anyone may appeal in civil courts.

Why are court records public?

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act was put in place back in 1968, with the latest changes coming in 2000. This act was introduced to ensure that all residents of Virginia had the fundamental right to access public records. It doesn’t matter whether the records are held by state or local government, members o the public had the right to access and copy them as they please. This promotes a sense of transparency between the government and public, and also safeguards government accountability.

To access records:

Address:

Supreme Court of Virginia
P.O. Box 1315
100 North Ninth Street, 5th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219-1315
Phone - (804) 786-2251

Hours of Operation
Monday through Friday: 8:15 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.

 

Virginia Court Structure
Virginia State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (757) 260-4272

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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

Virginia

The Colonial Williamsburg Courthouse is one of the oldest in the state, and was first built between 1770 and 1771.

  • There are 4 types of courts in Virginia. They are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Circuit Courts, and the District Courts. 
  • Virginia’s Supreme Court holds 12 justice positions. Each judge serves for 12 years.
  • The Supreme Court in Virginia was previously known as the Supreme Court of Appeals. This was renamed in 1970 due to it having both original and appellate jurisdiction.
  • The Court of Appeals has 11 judges that each serve terms of 8 years. Each panel consists of three judges. 

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