Louisiana is one of the only states in the country to still follow the Roman law; under this system, cases can be decided without referencing prior court verdicts where as in other states, the common interpretation of the law derived in prior cases prevails in all matters that are similar to the original case. However, while this difference may seem striking in legal textbooks, in truth, lawyers and judges in Louisiana do cite previous cases in their arguments these days.
As far as the court system and the judicial hierarchy of the state are concerned, these are no different from the other parts of the country. For instance, the tribunals in Louisiana are broadly divided into appellate and trial courts. The Supreme Court of Louisiana is the highest court in the state which has the legal powers of the state vested in it while on the lowest rung of the judicial ladder are parish courts which are a relatively recent addition to the judicial makeup in the state.
The courts and their judges
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is considered the principle administrator of the judicial system in the state. Apart from this, 7 associate judges are also appointed to the apex tribunal and all of them are appointed from the 6 districts of the Supreme Court around the state, for a period of 10 years. In contrast, the 5 appellate courts have 54 judges serving them and the district courts have 222 judges. District courts have general jurisdiction and can hear both criminal and civil cases while city courts are the original courts of limited jurisdiction.
The various courts in the judicial network
The Supreme Court: This court has jurisdiction to supervise the working of the entire judicial system and as such the authority over all other tribunals in the state. The Supreme Court is responsible for appointing judges to lower courts and for establishing the procedure of practice in these tribunals. The apex court has original, appellate and criminal jurisdiction hence it can hear civil as well as criminal cases.
The intermediate appellate courts: In terms of authority these 5 tribunals are just below the Supreme Court. These tribunals sit at Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Gretna, New Orleans and Shreveport. They have supervisory and appellate jurisdiction in criminal and civil matters. So, all cases that are brought up from the district court are first heard by these tribunals.
Unlike the Supreme Court which has the authority to choose the cases that are brought before it, the intermediate appellate courts have to accept appeals from all lower courts at least once. Unless the verdict is overturned by the Supreme Court all decisions of the intermediate appellate courts are the final say on the matter.
District courts:Louisiana has 40 district courts and each district comprises of 2 to 3 parishes. Judges serving at these tribunals are appointed for a term of 6 years and these courts hear all matters that come from within their geographical jurisdiction, be they criminal or civil. Hence it would be safe to suggest that district courts have the broadest powers when it comes to judicial matters in the state.
In many parishes, a limited jurisdiction division of the district court has been created to hear juvenile and family cases. However, in places where this facility is not available, the district court also has special jurisdiction to rule in such cases.
The Parish courts: Introduced into the judicial system in 1964, parish courts have limited jurisdiction although they can hear both criminal and civil matters. In terms of criminal cases, only charges that are punishable by a maximum of $1000 in fines and a prison term of no more than 6 months can be heard by these tribunals. Similarly, for civil cases to be heard by the parish courts, the claim amount in such cases should not exceed $2000.