Money & Career
Legal Landscape of Southwest Louisiana
7/1/2020 1:00:00 PM
Legal Landscape of SWLA

What a year 2020 has been so far . . . and we’re only halfway through! A major pandemic that affected both our physical and economic health, race relations that have resulted in needed reforms, an active storm season predicted, and an important election coming up in November. 

While sometimes under the radar, lawyers and the law impact most every facet of our lives. In this special section, you’ll see how law firms throughout Southwest Louisiana serve their communities, as well as a brief 2020 Louisiana Legislature Session update, details on upcoming elections, and more.

2020 Election Dates (and other things to know)

Election Date:

Tuesday, Nov. 3

Polls open 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Deadline to Register to Vote In Person/by Mail – Monday, Oct. 5

Deadline to Register to Vote Online/ – Tuesday, Oct. 13

Early Voting Dates: 

Tuesday, Oct. 23 - Tuesday, Oct. 27 (closed Sunday)

8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily

Lake Charles – Calcasieu Parish Courthouse

Moss Bluff – Calcasieu Parish Library

Sulphur - West Calcasieu Business Center

Runoff Election: 

Saturday, Dec. 5

Polls open 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Deadline to Register to Vote by Mail or In Person – Wednesday, Nov. 4

Deadline to Register to Vote Online/ – Saturday, Nov. 14

Early Voting Dates:

Friday, Nov. 20 - Saturday, Nov. 28 

(Closed Sunday, Nov. 22 and Thursday, Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Day)

8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. daily

Lake Charles – Calcasieu Parish Courthouse

Moss Bluff – Calcasieu Parish Library

Sulphur - West Calcasieu Business Center

For more information, call the Registrar of Voters at (337) 721-4000.

State Elected Officials Work Hard for Constituents

The Louisiana Legislature proved productive in their 2020 Regular Session, which adjourned June 1, by passing 370 bills. Here are a few highlights of their hard work.

As COVID-19 has affected our lives in myriad ways, it was also a topic of concern in the Legislature. Gov. John Bel Edwards signed two COVID-19 liability bills into law that will protect businesses from lawsuits and litigation in the wake of the pandemic. HB 826 by Rep. Thomas Pressly (R-Shreveport) ensures that liability protections are in place for individuals and local or state governments that operated in accordance with public health guidelines during the COVID-19 crisis. SB 491 by Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) limits liability for businesses and individuals who provided relief or recovery equipment or services during the pandemic.

New Magistrate Judge Position for 14th District Judicial Court

Legislation creating the position of magistrate judge for the 14th Judicial District Court (Calcasieu Parish) has completed its trek through the Legislature and will go to the governor for his signature. House Bill 285 by Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill (D-Dry Creek) was approved 87-1 in the House, 35-1 in the Senate, and the House Wednesday voted 89-0 to accept Senate changes to the bill. Rep. Ronnie Johns (R-Sulphur) handled the measure in the Senate. He said the magistrate will replace ad hoc judges who have been handling district court cases.

Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John F. DeRosier says our community needed an individual to handle misdemeanor and felony arraignments, some misdemeanor trials, and certain administrative tasks. "This frees up the judges who handle the divisions to focus on more serious felonies. It’s a benefit to our community to allow that to happen.”

The magistrate judge will be a full-time position and the person elected will serve a six-year term. The magistrate would be prohibited from practicing law. Rep. Stephen Dwight (R-Moss Bluff) said the state Judicial Council believed the magistrate position is needed and it had to be a permanent position. The magistrate judge will be an elected position in the fall of 2020 and the term will begin Jan. 1, 2021.

Sports Betting now in the Hands of Louisiana Voters

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 73-23 in May to approve legislation that puts legalized sports wagering before state voters this fall. After the chambers pass each other’s legislation — and the bills are similar — the issue goes to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a proponent of sports betting, for his signature. Louisiana will become the third state to have sports betting on the November 2020 ballot, after South Dakota and Maryland. But even if voters approve in Louisiana, it will be some time before gamblers can place a wager. The bill requires the legislature to pass state laws "providing for the licensing, regulation, and taxation” of sports betting.

Tort Reform Could Lower Auto Insurance

The Louisiana Senate approved sweeping tort reform legislation, which supporters promise will lower the price of auto insurance in Louisiana. SB 418, aka the Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020, dramatically changes how people injured in car wrecks can seek – and receive – recompense through Louisiana courts. Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is supported by lawyers who represent injured plaintiffs, has spoken against parts of the bill but favorably for other parts. Opponents of the bill fear it will only benefit businesses and insurance companies, and could potentially lead to higher premium costs. If Edwards were to veto SB 418, the legislature could override with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. Louisiana has among the highest auto insurance rates in the nation, which business and insurance blame on the state civil justice system being out of line with the rest of the country. They claim the system makes it too easy to file lawsuits for minor injuries. 

Law Eases Restrictions on Medical Marijuana

Lawmakers made it easier to access medical marijuana by passing HB 819 by Rep. Larry Bagley (chair of the House Health & Welfare Committee) and loosening the rules dictating which doctors can recommend the drug to patients and why. Previously, to access medical marijuana, patients had to find a doctor licensed by the Board of Medical Examiners. The doctor could only "recommend” marijuana rather than prescribe – a distinction aimed at protecting doctors from penalties – for a list of diseases like cancer, AIDS, seizure disorders, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. Intractable pain was added in 2018. Now, doctors can recommend marijuana to patients for any condition they consider "debilitating to an individual patient and is qualified” to treat. Plus, doctors must only be in "good standing” with the Board of Medical Examiners, instead of having to obtain a license. While restrictions on medical marijuana have eased, Edwards and most lawmakers remain opposed to recreational marijuana.

Louisiana’s Civil Legal Aid Organizations: Offer Free Legal Services for Pandemic-Related & Other Civil Legal Needs

In addition to health and economic concerns, many Louisianans are facing legal issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Louisiana’s civil legal aid organizations continue to provide free legal services to low-income and other vulnerable people for legal needs arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic and other civil legal matters. 

Louisiana’s civil legal aid organizations, Acadiana Legal Service Corporation (ALSC) and Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS), have seen a steady flow of requests for critical civil legal needs and expect to see a dramatic increase in the coming months. Though the nature of this disaster is different than a hurricane or flood, civil legal aid remains a critical and necessary component of the recovery process. 

Many Louisianans are "newly poor” and have never experienced poverty or the disaster-related legal issues that accompany poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a steady increase of legal issues such as hardships related to stable housing, safety from domestic violence, access to unemployment benefits and consumer debt collection issues. Louisiana’s civil legal aid attorneys are working diligently to respond to the immediate needs, while preparing for an expected dramatic increase in the coming weeks and months.  

Legal aid programs throughout Louisiana remain open to help, whether the legal problem is related to the current pandemic or not. While their offices may be temporarily closed and in-person meetings limited to only emergency matters by appointment only to comply with social distancing, legal aid attorneys are busy working remotely and continue to represent clients in court through virtual hearings. Even outside of court, legal aid programs continue to help clients through technology such as videoconferencing, hotlines, virtual legal clinics, phone calls and emails. In the past month, approximately 1,000 individuals have visited the Louisiana Law Help website each day to access legal help and newly created information on hot topics developed by legal aid attorneys. Go to:

Louisiana nonprofit civil legal aid programs have a long history of coordination which has strengthened their ability to collectively respond to this pandemic. Residents in Southwest Louisiana should contact Acadiana Legal Service Corporation, with offices in Shreveport, Monroe, Natchitoches, Alexandria, Lake Charles and Lafayette. See their website at:

The Louisiana State Bar Association assists its more than 22,000 members in the practice of law. The statewide association, as part of its multi-faceted mission, promotes and maintains access to justice initiatives for the state’s residents, assists the Louisiana Supreme Court in its regulation of the practice of law, upholds the honor of the courts and the profession, and supports programs that increase public understanding of and respect for the law. 

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