We have had reports of cyber criminals imitating court telephone numbers (“spoofing”) and demanding that citizens pay money for fines or fees in cases involving relatives. These calls are not valid. New Mexico Courts will never call citizens to ask for payments of any kind.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 29, 2020
Contact: Jennifer DeGraaf
505-842-6600
jdegraaf@carrollstrategies.net

NOW MORE THAN EVER, OUR STATE WILL NEED CIVIL
LEGAL SERVICES TO DEAL WITH NEW VIRUS-RELATED
CRISIS
LEGAL HELP IS AVAILABLE DURING ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Albuquerque, N.M. – As the effects of the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 virus
continue to devastate our state’s workforce, organizations that provide civil legal resources to
those in need are seeing a huge uptick in requests for guidance.
Civil legal service providers are nonprofits and organizations that help people navigate the legal
system on civil matters. In criminal cases, everyone is entitled to an attorney, but not in civil
cases, in which legal representation is not a right.
The New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice is sending out an alert to let people know
that civil legal services are available to those in need, and that the state is facing a wave of new
cases due to people losing jobs and income.
In difficult economic times, people have trouble paying rent and making house payments. While
some lenders are allowing homeowners to delay payments, lawyers at United South Broadway
Corporation are anticipating a 30 percent increase in foreclosure case filings, many of which will
involve income-eligible clients.
In addition to foreclosures and evictions cases, other areas of civil legal assistance will see a
sharp increase in need as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. Other such areas include help
obtaining access to benefits and cases involving domestic violence.
“Now more than ever, we need the resources that civil legal services will bring to dealing with
the thousands of new cases around the state,” said Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon, who
sits on the Commission on Access to Justice. “People will need help trying to survive this
pandemic, and civil legal services should be there to help people in need.”
People who have lost their jobs during the pandemic may be especially vulnerable. A recent
report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, published in early May, found that debt collection lawsuits
were already the most common type of civil court case in many states before the COVID-19
crisis.
Debt issues could hit New Mexicans particularly hard. Nearly 40 percent of New Mexicans have
a debt that is in collections.
Applications for unemployment and Medicaid enrollment also spiked with the sharp economic
downturn. More than 125,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment between March 13 and
April 25. An additional 17,000 adults and children had enrolled in Medicaid by the end of April.
“We’re hopeful that the economy will recover, but many New Mexicans could face struggles as a
lasting effect of the COVID crisis as they try to pay down debt accumulated during the pandemic
and work to keep their homes,” said Lewis Creekmore, Executive Director of New Mexico Legal
Aid. “We’re here to help navigate the legal system and make sure people are treated fairly.”
The Commission on Access to Justice identifies and promotes strategies for helping people
navigate the complex legal system. The Commission works with stakeholders to increase the
availability of pro-bono legal counsel for clients in civil cases, and promotes the creation of
court-based self-help centers for people representing themselves. Other strategies
include working to increase the number of plain-language documents available through the court
system.
Civil legal services handle over 20,000 cases statewide each year, helping people who can’t
afford a lawyer get justice in our legal system.
It is impossible to gauge the number of new cases the virus will bring to the state’s system of
civil legal services, but already providers are seeing a significant uptick in cases and expect more
in the fall as the effects of job loss and income reduction become more apparent throughout the
state.
“And the worst is yet to come,” said Diana Dorn-Jones, Executive Director of United South
Broadway Corporation. “People shouldn’t be thrown out in the street or lose their home in a
pandemic, and we’re here to help if there’s a legal procedure to get involved.”
The major areas of concern for people are landlords who try to evict, banks that try to foreclose,
healthcare, food, and income assistance that aren’t delivered, wrongful debt collections, and
domestic violence cases. For instance, more domestic violence cases occur during times of
financial stress and at present, people are in highly stressful situations while confined to their
homes.
“What’s coming is going to be a wave of crisis situations in the lives of our citizens,” said Justice
Bacon. “We need to be there to help people.” For residents of New Mexico who need help,
there’s a helpline for legal services. They can call 833-LGL-HELP and that will get them into the
state’s legal service system.
In addition, the commission is asking working attorneys to volunteer to handle one pro bono
case, to help offset the effects of COVID-19. Attorneys who can take on one case should contact
New Mexico Legal Aid’s Volunteer Attorney Program for details, at
VAPreferrals@nmlegalaid.org.
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