The territorial limits of the East Baton Rouge Justices of the Peace Court were set up by the legislature in 1980. Over time, parts of the parish have been annexed by the City of Baton Rouge. Therefore, in some areas, citizens may file claims in Justice of the Peace Court, City Court, or District Court.
The claimant does not need an attorney. The court can accept verbal claims, but usually the court has fill-in-the blank forms that serve as pleadings. The Justice of the Peace can not give legal advice, nor will the court rule in advance; however, the office does provide information on claim filing procedures. Please do not try to give the court an overly detailed explanation in the hope of prejudicing the court. You will have an opportunity to present your claim at a later date.
The Constable or other officer will try and serve the claim. It is the Plaintiff's responsibility to provide adequate information to effect service of process. The general rule is that the court should be provided with Defendant's place of domicile. However, if that is not possible, then any other address (such as place of employment) is sufficient. Once the defendant(s) is served, he has 10 days in which to file a response, which may be an admission of liability or fault or any number of affirmative defenses. If the defendant fails to file a response, the claimant can take a “default” judgment by presenting evidence to the court sufficient to justify a judgment in his favor. If a response is filed, the court will set a hearing at the convenience of the parties in which both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence and testimony.
There are various tools to collect money owed under a judgment. The most common method is to garnish the debtor’s wages. Another remedy is to seize and sell property of the debtor. The judgment may also be recorded in the mortgage records which acts as a judicial mortgage on the debtor’s property.
A party has 15 days to file an appeal, which includes the posting of an appeal bond. The claim will then be heard “de novo” (from scratch) by a District Court Judge, at which point the decision will be final.
Justices of the Peace are committing magistrates authorized to issue warrants for arrest in many matters. The only criminal matters that may be tried are prosecutions of litter violations. If you have any reason to believe a crime is being committed, please contact your nearest law enforcement agency. Litter violations may be reported to the Constable or Sheriff’s office. The court can not issue restraining orders, but in some instances may require a peace bond.
Justices of the Peace are ex-officio Notaries Public, and therefore can provide many notarial services. Of course, Justices of the Peace may perform civil marriages. Couples should obtain a marriage license from the Clerk of Court’s office, and will need to have at least two witnesses present. Marriage ceremonies are scheduled by appointment. Justices of the Peace may also determine ownership and possession of moveable property not exceeding $5,000 in value. This sometimes enables the court to clear up titles to automobiles and trailers. Finally, the Justice of the Peace serves to help citizens “know where to go.” We’ll do our best to point you in the right direction if we are unable to help with your specific problem.