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Chapter 3: Opinions

Since Virginia Lawyers Weekly first hit the presses almost 22 years ago, we’ve been the commonwealth’s leading source in digesting and providing full-text copies of court opinions to our readers. But only recently has the method for obtaining these documents undergone a significant change.

In 2006, we retired our automated fax service and began offering opinions electronically, in pdf format. Over the next couple years, we worked steadily to build an electronic opinion database and ultimately make these full-text cases available through the Web.

With the launch of our new site, we now provide subscribers with free online access to the full-text copies of every opinion we digest, from 2008 onward.

Opinion digests

Each week, VLW publishes digests of the previous week’s cases from Virginia’s state and federal courts. Opinion digests are case summaries which highlight the key points of full-text opinions written by the presiding judge or judges. At times, these documents can be lengthy, so we provide a concise overview of each case so you can determine in a few paragraphs, rather than 20 pages, if the case is relevant to your practice. At the bottom of each digest, we list the case style, judge issuing the opinion, case number, trial date, court, trial court and judge if case was appealed, attorneys on both sides, number of pages in the document and a VLW reference number you’ll need to use to obtain a full-text copy.

All opinions are assigned a VLW number, which is a unique seven-digit code used to keep track of each case we digest. The first three digits represent the year (i.e., 008 for 2008); the middle digit is a number we’ve assigned to each court we cover (see the bottom of the page for a breakdown of VLW court codes and online accessibility); the last three digits are used as an identification number for each case.

VLW reports cases from six courts total. The federal courts we cover are the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court – Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court – Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia. In the state court system, we cover the Supreme Court of Virginia, Virginia Court of Appeals and Virginia Circuit Courts.

Occasionally, we feature cases written by General District judges, opinions from the Virginia Attorney General or other miscellaneous decisions.

Several of these courts provide opinions to the general public free of charge. For each of these cases, VLW links to the court’s official Web site to direct you to the full-text opinion. However, full-text trial court opinions from the Virginia Circuit Courts generally are not available online from court Web sites, but are available through the VLW site as pdfs to subscribers with a username and password.

Trial court opinions from federal courts in the Eastern District, including Alexandria, Newport News, Norfolk and Richmond, are available for a fee through the Pacer system (https://ecf.vaed. uscourts.gov/ cgi-bin/login.pl). However, for VLW subscribers, opinions from these courts digested in our paper are available for free as pdfs on the VLW Web site.

Accessing opinions on the Web

For your convenience we’ve created a quick and easy way to access current opinions – one where you can bypass the Archives search and go straight to the full-text document. At the top center of our home page, beneath the top navigation bar, you’ll find a list of all the courts we cover. Click on the court you’d like to view, and you will be directed to a page listing links to full-text opinions, sorted in descending order by VLW number. The majority of these court pages list cases going back to the beginning of 2008. The Circuit Court cases extend back through January 2007.

Each opinion is embedded into its page as a pdf file, making it easy to print, e-mail, search or save to your computer. To get a full-page view of the document, just click on the “Open pdf in a new window” link.

If you’d prefer to browse through our recent digests to find cases of interest, just as you would in the paper, we have this feature available on our site. Under the Archives tab, select the option to browse opinion digests, and you will be directed to a listing of our most recently published digests, along with a brief summary of each. You can also access this page by clicking the “more opinions” link under the “Latest Opinion Digests” section of the home page. All digests on this page link to their full-text opinion.

You can, of course, still use the Archives as a method of obtaining full-text opinions, especially older ones. For best results, type in the VLW number and narrow the search field down to opinion digests. If the full-text opinion is available, the link at the bottom of the digest will point you in the right direction.

If the case is not obtainable online, or if you are not a subscriber to the paper, you can order the full-text opinion by calling 1-800-456-5297, ext. 14010, or e-mailing a request to opinions@valawyersmedia.com. The cost is $2 per page plus tax and the opinion will be delivered via e-mail as a pdf attachment. Fax and mail delivery are also available, although subject to service charges.

Top Ops and Important Opinions

Each weekday, Virginia Lawyers Weekly selects a “Top Opinion.” This case is summarized on our home page and the full-text pdf is available to everyone, including non-subscribers, for a day under the section entitled “Today’s Top Opinion.” After a day, these opinions are still available online to subscribers.

The day’s Top Opinion is also featured in our Daily Alert e-mail, which includes up-to-date legal news stories reported in news outlets across Virginia. To sign up for this e-mail alert, just click on the Daily Alert box above the search bar on the home page and fill out your e-mail address.

We also maintain a running compilation of the Important Opinions we highlight in each week’s issue of the paper at the bottom of the front page. You can access these cases by clicking on the Important Opinions link under the Research tab on the top navigation bar. Full text links to the featured cases are also available through this page. Content is updated at the end of each month and is also published twice a year, in January and July, as an issue of our newspaper.

What’s available online – A quick overview

*4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
VLW court code: 2
User access: Free
Available online: Jan. 1996 – Present

*U.S. District Court – Eastern District of Va.
VLW court code: 3
User access: Subscriber only
Available online: Jan. 2008 – Present

*U.S. District Court – Western District of Va.
VLW court code: 3
User access: Free
Available online: 2000 – Present

*U.S. Bankruptcy Court – Eastern & Western Districts of Va.
VLW court code: 4
User access: Free
Available online: Jan. 2008 – Present

*Supreme Court of Virginia
VLW court code: 6
User access: Free
Available online: June 1995 – Present

*Virginia Court of Appeals
VLW court code: 7
User access: Free
Available online: May 1995 – Present
(Unpublished opinions also available)

*Virginia Circuit Courts
VLW court code: 8
User access: Subscriber only
Available online: Jan. 2007 – Present

VLW court codes: 9-12
User access: Subscriber only
Available online: Occasionally. Cases may include opinions written by General District judges, Virginia Attorney General opinions or other miscellaneous decisions.

Older full-text opinions that have been digest in VLW, but are not available online, may be ordered by calling 1-800-456-5297 ext. 14010, or emailing a request to opinions@valawyersmedia.com. The cost is $2 per page.

An opinion FAQ guide is available at www.valawyersweekly.com/virginia-lawyers-weekly-opinions-faq/.

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