WHAT WE LITIGATE:
We have extensive experience litigating civil cases involving a broad range of legal issues, including: construction, contracts, collections, trade and business disputes, intellectual property, wills and estates, fiduciaries, real estate, commercial real estate, land use, personal injury and professional negligence. Our clients include both businesses and individuals, and we have represented both plaintiffs and defendants. Magner Law is a full service litigation firm and this is hardly a comprehensive list. If your particular legal matter isn't listed, contact us; we have probably handled similar cases before.
GENERAL DISTRICT COURT
General District Court, or GDC as attorneys commonly refer to it, handles civil cases involving claims for amounts up to $25,000.00. GDC trials are conducted by a judge, sitting alone without a jury, and typically involve two court appearances: 1) the "civil return" in which the court calls the case to determine if it has been properly filed and served and then sets a trial date and 2) the trial. Trials in the GDC can last anywhere from a few minutes to an entire day. Cases in the GDC are often completed within a few months from the date the case is filed. For smaller matters, the GDC offers the citizens of Virginia a relatively quick and inexpensive means of obtaining judicial resolution to civil disputes.
Virginia's Circuit Courts handle all manner of cases in Virginia as well as performing other judicial functions for the county in which they are located. The Circuit Courts maintain the county's land records, oversee the administration of wills and probate estates, resolve disputes involving state and county administrative agencies and maintain registries of business names. They also hear appeals from the General District Courts. Civil cases tried in the Circuit Courts, including cases appealed from the GDC, are subject to strict rules of procedure and evidence. Most cases may be tried by a jury, and trials may last for several days or even several weeks. Depending on the jurisdiction, most cases are set for trial approximately one to two years from the date they are filed. Civil trials in the Circuit Court generally have three phases: 1) the pleadings phase in which the parties file complaints, answers, motions to dismiss or add parties, etc.; 2) the discovery phase in which the parties make formal demands on each other to produce documents, records and witnesses relevant to the case; and finally 3) the trial phase including pre-trial motions in which the parties seek to limit the matters to be presented to just those issues that are truly in dispute, and, of course, the trial itself.
Most civil cases tried in the Circuit Courts are appealed directly to the Virginia Supreme Court, although certain types of cases are appeal-able to the Virginia Court of Appeals. In Virginia, there is no "appeal of right" for most types of civil cases. Civil litigants who are dissatisfied with the decision of a Circuit Court must petition the appellate court to request that their case be heard. Historically, about 80-85% of such petitions are denied and no appeal is allowed. That's why it is critical to get things right in the Circuit Court!
Virginia Administrative Agencies
Many of our business clients (and some of our individual clients) have dealings with administrative agencies, at the local, state or even federal level. Whether it's a matter involving a license or a permit, a ruling by an agency board, or even an agency judicial proceeding, Magner Law can assist you. Unlike the Courts, agency procedures tend to be less formal and many decisions are made based on written submissions only, without a live, in-person hearing. The Virginia Administrative Procedures Act contains general guidelines for the agencies to follow, but each agency has its own specific procedures, deadlines and requirements. Agencies that we practice before include:
Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Virginia Department of Labor, Virginia Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation, Virginia Department of Transportation, County School Boards, County Departments of Taxation, County Zoning Boards, and many, many more.
Mediation and Arbitration
Arbitration is an "alternative dispute resolution" option, in that it is an alternative to litigating your case in the Courts. There are certain advantages to arbitration. For one, it's private - there are no public records regarding arbitration proceedings and parties can agree to keep the proceedings, and the outcome, confidential. Arbitration is also less formal with relaxed pleading and discovery rules. There are no juries in arbitration and arbitrators are often well versed in the subject matter in dispute, which means that outcomes aren't subject to the whims of lay people who may have no understanding of complex and/or technical issues.
There are downsides, however, and these should be carefully considered before agreeing to arbitrate. First, although arbitration was originally intended to be less costly and quicker than going through the courts, arbitration rules have become increasingly complex over the years and, as a result, arbitration costs are often just as high or higher than litigating before the courts. More importantly, however, there is no appeal; in binding arbitration, the arbitrator's decision is the final word on the matter and parties give up all rights to any appeal or any review by the courts. Arbitration awards can be enforced by the courts, however, just as if they were a court judgment.
Mediation in Virginia is completely voluntary, confidential and non-binding. However, it is a very powerful tool for resolving civil disputes, especially if the litigants can agree to at least SOME of the facts in dispute. Mediation can occur at any stage of litigation or even before any suit is ever filed. However, unlike an arbitrator, a mediator has no power to force either side to do anything. Mediation is a controlled negotiation and the outcome is often determined by the negotiation skills of the parties and their advocates. That said, a mediated resolution, even one that is not perfect, is almost always preferable to trusting the outcome of your case to the whims of a jury of strangers.