Navigating The Fairfax County Courts
If you have a hearing or trial scheduled in Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Courthouse (called the “Jennings Judicial Center”) may at first seem overwhelming. The busiest courthouse in the Commonwealth of Virginia sees approximately 20,000 people enter on a weekly basis, and the enormous, $120 million expansion, which was completed in 2008, only adds to the potential for intimidation.
When arriving, it’s important to note that the public parking garage is a 5-10 minute walk to the main entrance. Long lines will often develop at the security checkpoint that everyone must traverse, so be sure to arrive early. An information desk is available past the security area to provide further assistance.
For cases in family law, which is my area of practice, the Circuit Courtrooms are located on the fourth and fifth floors, and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations (JDR) Courtrooms are on the third floor. There are monitors located near all of the elevators on the third, fourth and fifth floors, which provide updated time and location information for each matter on the docket.
The lifeblood of the Circuit and JDR Courts are “Motions Days.” On Wednesdays in JDR Court and Fridays in Circuit Court, judges hears motions in pending cases. The motions must have been filed and noticed at least one week in advance (certain motions have a two-week notice requirement), and must be straightforward enough that they can be heard in 30 minutes or less. Family law motions commonly heard on Motions Days include: motions in discovery disputes (such as Motions to Compel Discovery Responses), Motions for “Pendente Lite Relief” (child or spousal support, exclusive use of the marital home or other assistance on a temporary basis), Rules to Show Cause (for enforcement of existing court orders), Motions for Sanctions, and various other motions.
Time estimates are given at the beginning of Motions Day during the court’s “docket call,” and matters are taken in order from shortest to longest. You might have to wait an hour or more for your case to be called, depending on the size of the docket and the duration of your time estimate.
Of course, not every matter can be heard in 30 minutes or less. When more time is needed, or when there’s a dispute over scheduling, the Circuit Court has a very efficient and convenient calendar control mechanism. One side of a dispute must notice the other at least one day in advance (and more if possible), and then both can report to Judge’s Chambers on the fifth floor (or utilize the “call-in” option), fill out a form, and await an opportunity to meet with a judge at a conference table to explain the request for a longer hearing. The judge can then schedule a longer trial, move an existing date, or address other calendar-related inquiries or disagreements. Calendar control is available every day that the Courthouse is open, and can save the parties a great deal of time and money when scheduling issues arise.
Many people ask about the tendencies of individual Circuit Court and JDR Court judges, and whether certain judges can be requested. This line of thinking is not particularly useful in Fairfax cases, because there are currently 13 Circuit Court judges and eight JDR Court judges, and you will rarely know who your judge is before walking into the courtroom. If a case is particularly litigious or requires follow-up court appearances, a judge may (at his or her sole discretion) “earmark” a case to be heard exclusively by him or her, although this occurs fairly rarely.
The Fairfax County Courthouse is a well-oiled machine with mechanisms in place to streamline the litigation process. Livesay & Myers, P.C. has a team of Fairfax divorce attorneys who are seasoned at handling Fairfax cases and their unique nuances. Contact us today to arrange a consultation with one of our attorneys.