Virginia’s Circuit Court judges have a lot of power. Take, for instance, Roanoke County Circuit Court Judge Charles Dorsey, who ordered the Confederate statue outside the courthouse — or the courthouse itself — to be moved. As we say, judges have a lot of power. But is it limitless? Can you ask for a different judge in your Virginia family law case?
Virginia’s Court System
Virginia has a tiered court system, something like a triangle. At the apex sit the seven justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia. They are the state’s court of last resort.
Directly below the Supreme Court is the 17-judge Court of Appeals, which takes cases on appeal from any of the 120 Circuit Courts in 32 different circuits. The Circuit Courts are more or less associated with Virginia’s counties, but large cities also have their own Circuit Courts.
Minor issues are handled in the remaining two types of courts, with one of each in all 32 court districts throughout the state:
- General District Courts
- Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Courts (JDR)
Your parking ticket, speeding fine, and day-to-day criminal and civil issues start in these lower courts. If necessary, they can wend their way all the way through Virginia’s court system to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
From there, they could head off to various courts of appeal on the federal level before ending up in the Supreme Court of the United States.
What Do Virginia Circuit Courts Do?
Virginia’s Circuit Courts handle all criminal and civil matters relating to Virginia’s adults (18 and over). That is why your separation, divorce, and spousal support case will be held before a Circuit Court judge. If you have an issue with a Circuit Court judge, you may want to follow this agenda:
- Inform your family law attorney of your concerns
- Listen to your attorney’s responses to your concerns
- Gather evidence supporting your desire to change judges (partiality, wrongdoing, or failure to uphold the law)
- Have your attorney file a motion requesting a change of judge, providing reasons for recusal and evidence of perceived legal errors, partiality, or wrongdoing
The motion is, unfortunately, initially filed with the very judge you want removed from your case. That judge can either recuse herself or himself or deny the motion.
Your attorney can then file a motion with the court (not the judge in question). The court may or may not uphold the motion.
Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court (JDR)
JDR courts handle all matters relating to Virginia’s children (under 18). The same structure and procedures seen in Circuit Court apply in JDR courts, so your attorney would file a motion for the judge to recuse herself or himself.
By their nature, JDR courts deal in sensitive areas, with reserves of strong emotions just beneath the surface of all the parties involved. What parents would not fight fiercely to protect their children? Emotions often run high in JDR courts, and a parent may overreact and demand a change of judge.
In either court, however, facts and the law are meant to supersede emotion.
Can You Vs. Should You?
While you can request a change of judge in any family law case, your next question must be, “Should I?”
Your own attorney is in the best position to advise you on such a move, but generally you would need profoundly strong reasons backed by provable facts in order to get a new judge. It is a drastic step and can produce an outcome you may not want.
First, a new judge cannot change the charges or conditions of the original legal matter. Suppose you and your spouse are contesting a divorce. A new judge cannot suddenly turn that into a hearing on child custody. If a divorce motion was filed, a divorce motion must be adjudicated.
Second, a new judge will operate from the same civil code and case law as the first judge. You may not like your legal position, and your attorney may use considerable legal power to steer the case, but a new judge cannot create new law to suit your wishes.
Last, what if your motion is denied? You have tainted the waters, and despite oaths to be impartial and uphold Virginia’s laws, judges are human. They may still conduct your case in strict accordance with Virginia Code but they may show little patience for you, your arguments, and your attorney.
Ask Your Divorce Attorney about a Better Move
A better move for you and your attorney than asking for a new judge may be to ask for a continuance (a legal delay in proceedings) so you can regather your evidence, reformulate your strategy, search for witnesses, and return to the same judge with a stronger case.
Take a breath, think before acting, and talk to your counselor. You hired a family law attorney to advance your cause. Listen to your attorney.
The experienced attorneys at The Firm For Men know the judges and court officers of Virginia’s Circuit Courts. We know the judges handling Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court cases, too. We can handle all aspects of your Virginia family law case. Please contact us today, or telephone our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184, to speak with one of our lawyers.