The Circuit Court is the trial court of general jurisdiction in Virginia; this means that the court has authority to try a full range of cases both civil and criminal. Civil cases involve disputes essentially private in nature between two or more parties; criminal cases are controversies between the State and persons accused of a crime. Only in a circuit court is a jury provided for the trial of these disputes and controversies. The Virginia circuit court system is composed of thirty-one judicial circuits with one hundred twenty-one separate circuit courts in the various counties and cities of the State. The Supreme Court of Virginia establishes rules of practice and procedure for the circuit courts, and the Executive Secretary of the court as the administrator of the circuit court system.
A circuit court judge is appointed for an eight-year term by a majority vote of both houses of the General Assembly. If the General Assembly is not in session when a vacancy occurs, the Governor temporarily appoints (inter appointment) a judge to serve until the General Assembly meets again and can elect a judge for a full term. There are at least two judges serving each circuit and as many as fourteen serving in larger circuits. The Chief Judge of the circuit is elected by vote of the judges serving the circuit. Circuit court judges are required to reside in the circuit they serve and must have been admitted to the Virginia Bar at least five years prior to election or appointment. The clerk of the Circuit Court is a constitutional official and is elected to an eight-year term by the voters of the locality. The clerk handles administrative matters for the court and also has authority to probate wills and grant administration of estates. The clerk is the custodian of the court records and the clerk's office is where deeds are recorded and marriage licenses are issued.