Advanced Towing’s legal troubles are not over yet, but owner John O’Neill is feeling good.
Even with the Virginia Attorney General’s office now seeking attorney fees from Advanced, in addition to the mere $750 fine imposed by an Arlington judge, O’Neill feels “vindicated” and calls the AG’s case against him “blackmail.”
On Friday morning, both sides appeared at Arlington Circuit Court in front of Judge William Newman to enter a final order in the AG’s suit. However, since the court didn’t initially rule on the payment of attorney’s fees, a final order couldn’t be agreed on due to the AG’s office insistence that it’s still owed additional money.
As expected, the defense didn’t agree, so the case will continue with another hearing. That’s likely to come in April, when Republican Jason Miyares succeeds Democrat Mark Herring as the state attorney general.
While it’s unclear at this time how much those attorney’s fees may be, O’Neill tells ARLnow he isn’t worried about it.
“Come January, there’ll be a new AG in charge who believes this case is overbearing. I’ve talked to him,” O’Neill says. “I’m very comfortable that this will not be [sought].”
It was a month ago that the court ruled for the towing company to pay a civil fine of $750 for five separate violations of trespass towing rules. Herring’s office brought the case alleging the Advanced often improperly and unsafely tows vehicles, calling the company’s practices “frequently predatory, aggressive, overreaching and illegal.”
The three-digit fine is not the outcome the now-outgoing Attorney General was seeking.
“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,” the outgoing Herring wrote in a statement to ARLnow last month. “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.”
But to O’Neill, the court’s decision was proof that his company operates legally, despite public perception to the contrary.
“I was right along. I was vindicated,” he says. “I always had authority to tow and we never made a mistake. People who got their tow parked illegally and we worked in accordance with the law.”
He calls the $650,000 sought by the AG’s Office “blackmail money” and says the whole case was a “witch hunt.”
In a conversation with ARLnow, O’Neill also took shots at the Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case.
“She wanted to make my life hell,” he said. “We spent the next year and a half with paperwork up our ass.”
When asked if there were lessons learned from the experience, O’Neill says that just because the government says you are guilty of something, doesn’t mean that you are.
“I didn’t accept the blackmail attempts. This was David vs. Goliath,” said O’Neill, adding that he’s still working to pay the bill for his legal defense, helmed by attorney and sitting state Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax).
“We didn’t have the means to fight this case, but I protected my business and the rights of private property owners across the Commonwealth,” he said.
In terms of the violations for which the court found Advanced Towing liable — including drivers not securing safety straps on vehicles — O’Neill was dismissive and noted that this was primarily the driver’s responsibility.
Saying he “went through hell” with the trial, O’Neill believes Advanced Towing’s victory is a triumph for the entire towing industry.
“Private property owner rights were at stake,” he said. “If [the AG’s office] had won, towing companies would have been hesitant to tow cars… The entire industry is rejoicing. Now, they feel protected.”
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