Last updated: December 19, 2013
The legal system used in Lafayette (and all of Louisiana) is unique in the U.S. in that it is primarily based on the French and Spanish civil codes, as opposed to English common law. The two main courthouses in Lafayette are the small-time City Court and big-time District Court, though each has specific divisions for particular types of cases. Furthermore, Lafayette has a federal courthouse too.
Knowing which court is appropriate for your particular issue is critical to your success, so here is a useful guide to some of the key courthouses in Lafayette.
The 15th Judicial District Courthouse is the primary trial-level court in Lafayette. Generally, the District Court handles major cases while the City Court handles smaller ones. The 15th JDC handles civil lawsuits, probate, criminal cases and some civil appeals. If your civil lawsuit is worth over $35,000 you will need to file with the District Court (instead of the City Court). They also have a specialized Family Court for cases involving domestic relations, and the Adult and Juvenile Drug Courts for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation. If you have any doubt as to which court handles your particular matter, the 15th JDC is your most likely destination.
The City Court is used for smaller lawsuits and minor crimes. It has criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors that are punishable by a fine of less than $1,000 or a jail term of less than six months, and civil jurisdiction over small claims (worth less than $5,000) and personal injury, contract and landlord-tenant disputes up to $35,000. They also host a slew of rehabilitative services, such as anger management, alcohol abuse and drug treatment.
Lafayette lay within the Third Circuit Court of Appeals jurisdiction. If you need to appeal any matter of state law, the proper venue is about an hour away in Lake Charles at this courthouse. If you plan on representing yourself through your appeal, read their thorough Pro Se Manual before you miss some hidden procedural guideline.
Lafayette hosts a branch of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, which is headquartered in Alexandria and boasts an impressive jurisdiction. This court handles matters of federal law at the trial level only. Make sure you bring an ID and leave your cell phone in the car, as electronics are not permitted inside without special permission. Read up on how to represent yourself in Federal Court with their helpful Pro Se Handbook, which was specifically written with the Western District of Louisiana in mind. The Western District of Louisiana answers to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is headquartered in New Orleans but has jurisdiction over Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.