In this section: Judges | Supreme Court | Courts of Appeal | District Courts | District Attorneys | Clerks of Court | Justices of the Peace & Constables | Sheriffs | Jurors, Grand Jury, Coroner
This web page should not be considered a legal document, but rather a basic introduction into Louisiana's judicial branch of state government. For more in-depth information, please view the Louisiana State Constitution of 1974 or visit the LA Supreme Court website.
The judicial branch's power is vested in a Supreme Court, courts of appeal, district courts, and other courts including family courts, parish courts, and justice of the peace courts.
The judicial branch is responsible for administering the laws of the state and resolving legal conflicts. It includes the court system, comprising of Family and Juvenile Courts, the Clerk of Court, District Courts, District Attorneys, the Sheriff's office, coroners, Circuit Courts, Courts of Appeal, and the Louisiana Supreme Court.
“A judge of the Supreme Court, a court of appeal, district court, family court, parish court, or court having solely juvenile jurisdiction shall have been admitted to the practice of law in the state for at least five years prior to his election, and shall have been domiciled in the respective district, circuit, or parish for the two years preceding election. He shall not practice law.”
Powers of Judges
A judge may, among other court orders, issue writs of habeas corpus (the power to call any prisoner before the court to test the legality of his detention). Exercise of authority by a judge of the Supreme Court or of a court of appeal is subject to review by the whole court. The power of judges to punish for contempt of court is limited by law.
Qualifications for Judges
A judge of the Supreme Court, a court of appeal, district court, family court, parish court, or court having solely juvenile jurisdiction should have established legal residence in the respective district, circuit, or parish for one year preceding election. A judge should also have practiced law in the state for at least the number of years specified as follows:
· For a district court, family court, parish court, or court having solely juvenile jurisdiction - eight years.
· A judge cannot practice law while serving in office.
Judges: Election and Vacancy
All judges are elected. Elections are performed at times of a regular congressional election.
A newly-created judgeship or a vacancy in the office of a judge is filled by special election called by the governor. Until the vacancy is filled, the supreme court names temporary appointees. Temporary court appointees are not eligible for the subsequent election to fill the post.
The Supreme Court is composed of a chief justice and six associate justices, four of whom must agree in order to render a judgment. Supreme Court judges serve ten-year terms.
Supreme Court Districts
The state is divided into seven Supreme Court districts, and at least one judge is elected from each (these are distinct from the state's District Courts, for which there are currently 40). The districts and the number of judges assigned to each are subject to change by law enacted by two-thirds of each house of the legislature.
Supreme Court's Jurisdiction; Rule-Making Power; Assignment of Judges
The Supreme Court has general supervisory jurisdiction over all other courts. The Supreme Court has sole authority to appoint attorneys as temporary or ad hoc judges of city, municipal, traffic, parish, juvenile, or family courts.
- Original Jurisdiction. The Supreme Court conducts disciplinary proceedings against members of the state bar association.
- The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in civil cases re-considers both the law and the facts when hearing appeals. In criminal matters, its jurisdiction extends only to questions of the proper interpretation of laws.
- Besides the reasons listed above, a case may be appealed to the Supreme Court if (a) a law under which a person was convicted has been declared unconstitutional or (b) the defendant has been convicted of a capital offense and a death penalty has been imposed.
Supreme Court: Chief Justice
The judge oldest in point of service on the Supreme Court is named the state's chief justice. He is the chief administrative officer of the judicial system of the state.
Courts of Appeal
Courts of Appeal: Circuits; Panels; Judgments; Terms
The state currently has five circuit courts, with one court of appeal in each. Each court has panels of at least three judges. The judge with the longest term of service is named chief judge.
A majority of the judges sitting in a case must concur to render judgment. The term of a court of appeal judge is ten years.
Courts of Appeal: Circuits and Districts
Each circuit is divided into at least three districts, and at least one judge is elected from each. The circuits and districts and the number of judges as elected in each circuit are subject to change by law enacted by two-thirds of each house of the legislature.
Courts of Appeal: Jurisdiction
With exceptions, a defendant has a right of appeal or review of his case if he does not agree with a circuit court's ruling.
A court of appeal has jurisdiction of (1) all civil matters, and, (2) all matters appealed from family and juvenile courts, (3) most criminal cases that are triable by a jury. A court of appeal also has the jurisdiction to review and supervise cases which are heard within its circuit courts.
Courts of appeal generally do not hear new facts upon appeal of criminal cases, only questions of the lawfulness of a ruling. They are able to consider new facts, as well as questions of law, in civil cases.
Courts of Appeal: Certification
A court of appeal may refer any question of law before it to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court then may give its binding instruction or decide the case wholly.
District Courts: Judicial Districts
The state is currently divided into 40 judicial districts, each composed of at least one parish and served by at least one district judge. Each district elects a chief judge.
District Courts: Terms
The district, family, juvenile, parish, city, and magistrate courts have jurisdictions and numbers that are adjustable by a 2/3 majority vote of the legislature. As of 2007, the legislature may establish new judgeships for district courts as well.
The term of a district, parish, or city court judge is six years.
District Courts: Jurisdiction
A district court has original jurisdiction of all civil and criminal matters. It is the exclusive original jurisdiction of felony cases and of most cases involving property.
These types of cases are not ruled over by district courts: the right to run for office or other public position; civil or political right; and most issues of probate and succession.
Additionally in exception, a family court may have jurisdiction of cases involving property when those cases relate to disputes over community property like the settlement of claims arising from divorce or annulment of a marriage.
Juvenile and Family Courts
Criminal cases against those younger than age seventeen are referred to juvenile courts. However the legislature may provide laws for exceptions to this rule for serious cases such as murder, rape, kidnapping, drug dealing, and armed robbery.
On recommendation of the judiciary commission, the Supreme Court may discipline or remove judges from office.
Other Judicial Branch organizations are: Mayors' Courts, Justice of the Peace Courts, Parish Courts, City Courts, Magistrate Courts
In each judicial district a district attorney serves a six-year-term. A district attorney must practice law for five years prior to his election. The district attorneys prosecute criminal cases within their districts, and are legal advisors to the grand jury. District attorneys may not be involved in the defense of any criminal cases.
Clerks of Court
Clerks of court are elected to four year terms. They are responsible for keeping records of all legal proceedings. Clerks of court administer notarizations, mortgages, and other legal processes not requiring trial before a court. As well the Clerk of Court's office processes legal documentation preceding and following trial.
Justices of the Peace & Constables
Justices of the Peace are elected to serve six year terms as the judicial authority of a ward or district, can perform marriage ceremonies have jurisdiction in civil matters when the amount in dispute does not exceed $5,000 and do not have jurisdiction when a title to real estate is involved, when the state or any political subdivision is a defendant, or in successions or probate matters. Constables are elected to serve six year terms and carry out the orders of the Justice of the Peace Court, serve citations ordered by the justice of the peace courts and act as the enforcement officer of evictions and garnishments ordered by the JP court. The Office of the Attorney General maintains an online directory of Justices of the Peace and Constables by name, title, parish and region.
In each parish a sheriff is elected to four-year-terms. He is the chief law enforcement officer in the parish, as well as tax collector, with the exception of Orleans Parish.
A citizen of the state who has reached the age of 18 is eligible to serve as a juror within the parish in which he lives. Persons who are seventy years of age or older are exempt from jury service and may decline to serve as jurors if they wish.
There are one or more grand juries in each parish. They decide whether there is enough evidence for a person to be brought to trial (indictment).
The state's coroners are members of the judicial branch. In each parish a coroner is elected for a term of four years. Coroners must generally be licensed doctors.