(Updated, 10:35 p.m.) The Arlington Circuit Court finally came to a decision in Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit against Advanced Towing after last month’s multi-day trial.
The court has ordered the towing company, whose tactics have angered many in Arlington, to pay a civil penalty of just $750 for five separate violations. That’s a far cry from the $650,900 that the Attorney General’s office was seeking at trial.
“Although the Defendant’s conduct is sanctionable, the Court is constrained by the remedies available in both the Virginia and Arlington County Code,” wrote Judge William Newman in an opinion letter sent to both sides late Wednesday afternoon.
Additionally, the court did not issue an injunction against the towing company, writing that while there were “deficiencies” in Advanced Towing’s business practices and record keeping, the court “does not find evidence to issue a permanent injunction against Defendant.”
Chap Petersen, Advanced Towing’s attorney — as well as a Virginia state Senator — said at trial that he believed “the office of the Attorney General wants to put my client out of business.” He said the ruling largely vindicates the company and owner John O’Neill.
“While disappointed that the Court made any findings against our client, we feel vindicated in that the Court only assessed a $750 fine for the [five] found violations,” writes Petersen in a statement to ARLnow.
The court assessed one $150 civil penalty for not safely securing consumer vehicles with straps, one $150 civil penalty for not updating contract changes for a commercial parking lot in Ballston, and three $150 civil penalties for employing three drivers that were not registered with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS).
During the trial, the AG’s office, represented by Assistant Attorney General Erin Witte, called Advanced Towing’s practices “predatory, illegal, and dangerous.” To prove this, they called up a parade of witnesses, including Arlington County police officers and drivers who had their cars towed.
The court found merit in only some of the Attorney General’s claims.
The AG’s office argued that Advanced Towing didn’t clearly mark parking spaces at the Ballston lot, near Gold’s Gym on Wilson Blvd, leaving consumers confused. However, the court ruled the spots were properly labeled and signs properly posted and, therefore, didn’t assess a civil penalty.
Additionally, the AG’s office claimed that Advanced Towing didn’t have copies of towing contracts available for public inspection. But the court ruled that the relevant contracts were available to the public and, also, didn’t assess a civil penalty for that.
“Advanced Towing has been found to have violated the law and it’s time for the company to clean up its act. I am disappointed that the Court only awarded $750 in civil penalties and did not award restitution to consumers, especially the victims of Advanced’s dangerous towing practices who voluntarily testified in court to tell their story,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Advanced Towing has employed predatory and illegal towing practices for years, costing Virginia consumers hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and it deserves to be held accountable for its actions. I am proud of the hard work my Consumer Protection Section has done on this case, and we will not stop going after bad actors who prey on Virginians just trying to go about their daily lives.”
Petersen noted that, before the trial, the Attorney General’s office offered to settle the case over the summer for $780,000 and an injunction against certain practices by the company.
“I think the difference between the AG’s offer and the Court’s decision speaks for itself,” he said.
While it remains possible that the Attorney General could appeal the ruling, Herring lost his bid for a third term last week, putting further action in the case into question.
A final decree is scheduled to be presented to both sides in court on December 10.
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