New Orleans Public Library
Louisiana. First District Court (Orleans Parish).
Acquisition: Deposited by Criminal District Court, 1989
The Louisiana Constitution of 1845 allowed the legislature to establish "as many district courts as the public interest may require" (Title IV, Article 75). These district courts were to have original jurisdiction in all civil cases, when the amount in dispute exceeded $50, exclusive of interest. Act 43 of 1846 further detailed the organization of the district courts in the parish and city of New Orleans. The Act provided for five District Courts: the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts of New Orleans.
Act 43 designated that, in addition to hearing civil cases, the First District Court was to keep a docket for criminal cases, and ordered that “the criminal cases shall be tried by preference over the civil cases.” The Attorney General or District Attorney were to file all informations with the First District Court and grand jurors for the parish of Orleans were to be empanelled before the court and were to return to the court all bills found by them and all presentments made by them. The Justices of the Peace, Recorders, the Mayor, or any committing magistrates for Orleans Parish were to transfer all “examinations, depositions, declarations, confessions, affidavits, bonds, recognizances, and general all other instruments, acts, documents, and papers whatever, taken or received in, or concerning any criminal cause to the Clerk of First District Court.”
Act 229 of 1853 further organized the Orleans Parish courts, giving the First District Court original and exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute “all crimes, misdemeanors and offenses whatever, which have been committed within the limits of the First Judicial District; except only such minor offenses as shall by law be referred to the jurisdiction of the Recorders of the city, or other police tribunals that may be hereafter organized by law.”
Act 124 of 1874 established the Superior Criminal Court for the Parish of Orleans and removed from the jurisdiction of the First District Court, cases involving the following matters: offenses punishable by death, life imprisonment, or imprisonment at hard labor for more than five years; violations of the state election and registration laws; offenses committed by officers of the state and its municipalities; bribery; unlawful assemblage; carrying concealed weapons; conspiracy to commit crime; conspiracy to oppose execution of laws; obstruction of the performance of public officers; malfeasance, extortion, or oppression in office; attempting to bribe grand or petit jurors; and grand larceny. All cases involving these matters pending before the First District Court were transferred to the Superior Criminal Court for the Parish of Orleans, which also created by Act 124. The new court also took over as the office for the filing of election returns and voter registrations.
The Louisiana Constitution of 1879 established two disctrict courts for the parish of Orleans, consolidating all of the existing civil courts into a single Civil District Court and creating a single Criminal District Court. Cases pending in the First District Court (and in the Superior District Court) were transferred to the Criminal District Court under new docket numbers.
NOTE: Prior to 1853, when the jurisdiction of the court became exclusively criminal, successions were also filed in First District Court. Those successions (as well as successions filed in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth District Courts), 1846-1853, are indexed HERE. The successions are filed with the microfilmed suit records of this court.
NOTE: Like the other Orleans Parish (civil) district courts, the First District Court (as well as its successor after 1880, the Criminal District Court) was also empowered to grant naturalizations. The naturalization records for the Orleans Parish criminal courts, 1853 - 1899, are described in a separate finding aid HERE. The naturalizations are available on microfilm.
Suit and Case Records
Suit and Case Records, 1846-1880
Manuscript records of the proceedings in the civil suits and criminal cases filed before the First District Court. Access to these records is through the general docket books and the indexes thereto; indexes are extant for records from January, 1865 to June, 1873 only (See below). The records are arranged in two series (1st series: docket #'s 1-16370, 1846-1868; 2nd series: docket #'s 1 - 11522).
Individual civil suit records range in size from one or two sheets in the simpler matters to hundreds of documents in the more complicated litigations. Records may include some or all of the following items: petitions, answers, oaths, bonds, transcripts of testimony, and orders & judgments of the court [in some cases the orders and judgments appear as separate documents, more common though was the practice of recording such judicial actions on the reverse of the original petition(s)]. Various articles of evidence may also be filed in individual suit records, including such items as newspaper clippings, plans, copies of original documents filed elsewhere, letters, and accounts/extracts from accounts from various financial records.
Individual criminal case records will contain some, but probably not all, of these documents (some cases, however, can contain little other than the indictment and final verdict).
LINK HERE for a digital version of a sample First District Court criminal case: State vs Ophelia Garcia (fwc), 1860 (docket #14,840). The record is of particular interest because the surety for the appearance bond was the "Widow Parris [sic]," better known as Marie Laveau (though not identified as such on the record).
Minute Books, 1846-1880
Bound manuscript volumes in which the daily minutes of the court's proceedings were entered by the clerk. (The minute books are not microfilmed.)
v. 1 6/22/1846 - 2/27/1847
The general dockets are arranged in numerical order by docket number. Each page is divided into rectangular sections so that one docket entry appears in each section. At the head of each entry is the docket number and the names of the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) in the case. Prior to 1854, in civil suits, the names of the attorneys for plaintiff and defendant are also given. In criminal cases, the plaintiff is always "State of Louisiana) and the charge is noted. Beneath the heading is a dated list of the actions taken in the suit (e.g., petitions, answers, orders, documents filed, copies made, record withdrawn, judgments, etc.), along with the court costs incurred for each action.
Except for volumes 4 and 5, indexes to the general dockets are not extant. The docket books are available on 7 rolls of 35 mm microfilm.
v. 1 6/24/1846 - 2/7/1850 (#1 - 4665)
9/15/2014 -- iw