Pandemic and hurricanes take a toll on Lake Charles court caseload – American Press

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The jurisdiction of Lake Charles Ward 3 Municipal Court includes the entire town of nearly 85,000 plus approximately half of Calcasieu Parish – extending as far north as the Moss Bluff Bridge, as far west as the Calcasieu River and as far south as the Calcasieu-Cameron line. There are two judges who sit on the court – Chief Judge Jamie Bice, who serves Division A, and Judge Ron Richard, who hears Division B cases.

Being chief justice “doesn’t make me special, it just means I’ve been in court longer,” Bice said with a laugh.

The court hears civil cases – such as car wrecks and evictions – as well as all criminal misdemeanor cases in the city and approximately 40% of misdemeanors in Ward 3.

Like the region it serves, the Court has faced its own challenges in recent years.

“The Lake Charles Municipal Court, much like many of our personal and professional lives, has been impacted by two major events that have occurred since 2019,” he said. “The first was the pandemic which not only affected us, but also the nation. Then the Mike Tyson type punch came after that, which was Hurricane Laura, followed by the Sugar Ray Leonard jab which was Hurricane Delta. Everyone has felt it in their personal lives and it has certainly affected Lake Charles Ward 3 Municipal Court.

Le Bice said the court saw a 63% decrease in criminal case filings led by the Calcasieu Parish Attorney’s Office from 2019 to 2021.

“Do we think that Lake Charles is inoculated with some of the problems facing the country or elsewhere? I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ve had two big things happen. The pandemic has had a profound effect on people going out, people driving, people finding themselves. storms also kept people from being here and when they were here they focused on rebuilding.

The number of cases filed in the state-run court is also down 25%.

“It can also be directly attributed to the pandemic and the storms,” ​​he said. “We had months when the court was not open. I wish I could say, like Johnny Cash’s old “Man in Black” line, “I wish I could wear a rainbow every day and tell the world it’s okay.” I don’t think that’s the case.

Le Bice said the court found a 27% decrease in traffic tickets since 2019 and a 16% decrease in complaints filed by the state.

The number of civilian depots has also been halved.

“The year 2019 was one of the highest years in which civil cases were filed in the municipal court, it was almost 5,000,” Bice said. “Lake Charles was bustling, rocking and rolling, packed full. Then the two-horned lizard hit Lake Charles and the court was closed.

Le Bice said the majority of the court’s civil cases involve evictions and the storm had a huge effect on that with so many rental properties still vacant from the storms.

He said the Lake Charles City Court had begun to tighten its belt, watch its spending and freeze some new hires.

“We monitor our expenses like you would at home or in your business,” he said. “We’ve always had great people working for us and they’ve also had life issues like all of us – ripped roofs, medical issues – but we manage to work in sync with our people to make sure they know we have their backs.

Bice, who remained inside the courthouse during Hurricane Laura, said the building had very little damage.

“It was a whole night, but we didn’t suffer anything like the federal court; our federal court is scheduled to meet in Lafayette right now,” he said. “Once we got the generators going, we went to federal court and we went to state court and asked them if they needed to use our court, they could. We provided the best we could for these people when they needed it. The physical part of the court is in very good condition.

Le Bice said the city continues to rebuild both its physical footprint and its population, with cases resuming in city court.

“I’d like a world where you don’t need Judge Bice and I’d like to tell the world that it’s okay, but it’s really not okay and you need a strong police force and… ‘a strong justice system,’ he said. said. “Things are improving here, which makes sense, because they are probably improving in people’s personal lives and in their businesses. This double whammy really hit all of us and we are doing our best to tighten our belts and make the pitch as good as it was and that’s what we’re going to do.

He said one of the advantages of the municipal court is the speed at which cases are heard.

“We bring people to court to tell their story and we work very hard to come to a decision,” Bice said. “Our backup times are much shorter than other courts and that’s by law and by the way we operate. The most important thing is for people to tell their story, and my time isn’t too much to listen. I sleep very easily at night knowing that my best friend or my worst enemy got the same thing from me – fairness. I treat them the same – I give them my time, I listen to them.

Le Bice said he asked the Legislature about three years ago to raise the court’s jurisdictional limits from $35,000 to $50,000 and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

“Lake Charles was growing at such a rapid rate at that time that I thought we had to be able to relieve the 14th Judicial District Court of some of the issues that they had to deal with and our legislature was able to do that,” he said. -he declares. .

Now, this decision allows local families to argue with their contractors or insurers about the damage caused by the hurricane.

“There have been a lot of insurance cases and contractor cases that have been filed in our court because you can get to court faster, get your decision, if you don’t like it, it there is a faster way to go to the appellate court,” he said. “The $50,000 limit excludes two things – penalties and attorney fees. We find that there have been many people who have filed lawsuits that could have between $60,000 and $70,000 in damages, but they filed after consultation with their lawyers in our court because they don’t don’t have to wait a year for a hearing. If they are able to prove their bad faith, they are not limited by the $50,000 they are entitled to get their penalties and their attorney fees. That’s really how we were able to maintain our civilian role. I’m so glad we were able to get permission from the legislature to do this.

Le Bice said that despite recent court battles, their future remains bright.

“Have we been hit? Yes. Did we crawl? Yes. But anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m going to get up and so is Judge Richard. We will be there early every morning to ensure that we provide these services. We strive to be the best not only in this field, but in the state. We were like that once, and we will be again.

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