The National Law Journal honored McGuireWoods partner Jonathan Blank as a 2023 General Litigation Trailblazer, recognizing his groundbreaking work to end Virginia’s system of automatically suspending driver’s licenses for failure to pay court fines and costs.
Blank led a McGuireWoods team that collaborated with the Legal Aid Justice Center in a successful effort to challenge the state law, arguing that it violated the due process and equal protection rights of low-income drivers. Representing Virginians whose driver’s licenses were suspended for nonpayment of court fees, they sued the commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles in 2016 to have the state’s law ruled unconstitutional.
In 2018, a federal court granted a preliminary injunction to halt enforcement of the law against the plaintiffs. Blank also assisted a Legal Aid Justice Center team that persuaded then-Gov. Ralph Northam to introduce a budget amendment in 2019 to stop enforcement of the statute statewide. The Virginia General Assembly abolished the law in 2020.
In addition, Blank assisted a team that persuaded the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that plaintiffs in the driver’s license lawsuit qualify as “prevailing parties” and are eligible to petition for recovery of legal fees.
“It was an honor to work with the Legal Aid Justice Center to achieve this result on behalf of low-income Virginians,” said Blank. “Because of this victory, poor people won’t have to choose between feeding and housing their children and paying a fine or cost. Virginia now is a model for other states that have these court-debt license suspension laws on their books.”
Blank, a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, chairs McGuireWoods’ Business & Securities Litigation Department. He is a former managing partner of the Charlottesville, Virginia, office.