Venue: A Sense of Place.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the concept of proper legal venue. This concept is a fundamental element of all law-related proceedings. At its very essence, venue refers to the correct location for a legal action. In many situations, more than one venue may be available for a legal proceeding. This piece is intended to offer a generalized overview of the concept, rather than a scholarly analysis or inventory of all matters venue.
With that qualifier firmly in mind, civil matters usually are pursued in courts with a tie to the underlying action——such as the place where the car accident took place, where a contract was signed or where a party resides. For example, ordinarily you wouldn’t expect a dispute between two Alabama neighbors over adjacent property to be handled in New Hampshire. A divorce proceeding involving a couple living in Chicago probably won’t be pursued in Tucson.
Likewise, in the criminal sphere, proper legal venue is set forth in the procedural rules and in statute. You are not going to be tried in Manhattan for a petty theft in Portland.
There are mechanisms to change the location where a legal action proceeds. Most people are familiar with the phrase “change of venue” in high profile cases—-such as where a criminal defendant asks the court to move the case to a different location in hopes of getting a jury pool less exposed to the case or its attendant publicity.
As an aside, “venue” and “jurisdiction” represent similar but distinct legal concepts. The easiest way to distinguish the two (at least for me) is to think of “venue” as place or location, whereas “jurisdiction” embraces the appropriate court to handle and decide a legal matter. An immigration court may have the necessary tools and resources to manage a tax dispute, but its judges don’t have the legal authority to do so. But I digress…
More recently, the idea of proper legal venue has taken on a more encompassing and contextual meaning for me. Perhaps the impetus comes from a meeting at a firm specializing in probate law. Probate law focuses on wills and estates. The firm was housed in a former mortuary. What an ironic interpretation of the concept of an appropriate venue.
As chronicled months ago, I closed a more “traditional” law office and now am the sole owner and force behind my own legal practice. My “shingle” hangs in a place much closer to my home; my caseload I have established a “pop up” law office in my childhood bedroom while temporarily helping my father sort through paperwork and such. The desk in my room—-a fifth grade birthday present—seems so diminutive and incapable of supporting my adolescent projects and dreams. Yet, the desk now is capped with a “sit-stand” riser desk, an Apple laptop and a web of technology cables. For the time being, this desk is now the locus of my “proper legal venue.”
Venue, at its most basic, is the sense of a “right place” for a legal action. This sense of a “right place” has embraced the changes in my own professional practice. May we all find the “proper venue” for all aspects of our lives.