Virginia General District CourtVirginia general district courts, commonly referred to as GDC, are courts not of record, meaning that unless specifically requested, arranged and paid for by the requesting party, there is no court reporter to record or transcribe any of the oral proceedings. GDC has limited discovery and is often less expensive and a much faster process then circuit court.
GDC can hear limited types of cases involving criminal law, including traffic violations, misdemeanors and preliminary hearings, as well as civil law matters. GDC has the exclusive authority to hear civil matters with civil claims of $4,500 or less in monetary damages and share authority with Virginia circuit courts to hear cases with claims between $4,500 and $25,000.
Besides satisfying the statutory requirements, in order to file a case in GDC, an individual or an attorney, if the filing party is a business or if the individual has retained counsel, completes a Warrant in Debt and provides the requisite filing fees, which includes service of the civil warrant, often by a sheriff or deputy onto the other party. Once the Warrant in Debt has been served, the parties must come to the court for the return hearing to set the trial date. At the return hearing, either party may request pleadings, which includes a Bill of Particulars for the Plaintiff and a Grounds of Defense for the Defendant. The Bill of Particulars will provide information regarding the nature and extent of the claim. The party served will answer the Bill of Particulars with Grounds of Defense illustrating how the party served intends to defend the claim. Unless settled prior, the case usually takes no more than a few hours to litigate before the GDC judge. GDC cases do not have juries and all cases are decided by the judge.
There is an absolute right of appeal in GDC to an applicable Virginia circuit court if the civil claim is in excess of $50 of the judgment, provided that specific procedures and deadlines are met. Such appeal is heard by the applicable circuit court de novo, meaning that the circuit will hear the case as if the case was being heard for the first time, showing little to no deference to the judge’s decision in GDC.
It is important to consult a skilled litigation and trial attorney for assistance with a GDC matter to assist not only in preparation of a Warrant in Debt, Bill of Particulars or Grounds of Defense, as applicable, but more importantly as many GDC cases are won or lost under Virginia’s Rules of Evidence and the admissibility of such evidence.
Virginia Circuit CourtIn addition to hearing cases appealed from GDC, as well as from the juvenile and domestic relations district court, and sharing authority with GDC involving claims between $4,500 and $25,000, Virginia circuit courts hear all civil matters with claims of more than $25,000 as well as criminal matters involving felonies.
Besides satisfying the statutory requirements and procedures, in order to file a case in Virginia circuit court, the filing party files a complaint (called a petition in some circumstances) containing a specific and required information stating a claim. The complaint will also include any necessary exhibits.
Unlike GDC, there is no absolute right of appeal from a circuit court decisions, with the exception of cases involving injunctions in domestic relations cases and in some administrative matters. Further, a notice of appeal must be filed with the applicable circuit court within a specified time limit in order to appeal the court’s decision to the Virginia Court of Appeals.
It is extremely important to consult a skilled litigation and trial attorney for matters in Virginia circuit court as failure to follow procedural formalities may result in a loss of claim for a plaintiff or default judgment for a defendant.
For more information regarding Virginia’s court system, please see Virginia Federal Court System and Virginia Local Court Rules.