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Editorial: Courts serve another smart solution in digital age

In today’s digital age – when you can renew your driver’s license, pay your property taxes and direct your investments online – does it make any sense to have to schlep into court to try to resolve a basic debt/money-due lawsuit?

Of course not. Nor does it make sense to have already burgeoning court dockets further burdened with tens of thousands of routine, more easily resolved cases every year.

So while the courts will continue to be there for the most contentious of debt/money-due lawsuits, a much quicker and more convenient option went live this month across New Mexico, courtesy of a $450,000 legislative appropriation. Available in Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, Curry and Roosevelt counties now, in Bernalillo County’s District Court next week and in Metropolitan Court the week after, the courts’ new dispute resolution program is designed to save New Mexicans and New Mexico businesses time and money. Developed initially by eBay and PayPal to resolve customer disputes, it works like this:

⋄ A complaint and answer are filed.

⋄ Parties answer questions that include what the case is about and how much money they think they are owed.

⋄  The other side gets to say why they do or don’t owe that money, as well as what they would be willing to pay.

⋄ For the first 14 days of the resolution process, parties can request a mediator at no charge.

⋄ If an agreement is reached, it is automatically filed with the court.

⋄  If no settlement is reached within 30 days, the case moves to court.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, says it’s a “wonderful example of sensibility and increasing efficiency in the judicial system.”

And that falls in line with the courts’ earlier move to redact and upload a backlog of 80 million documents in court databases so that, instead of having to make a trip to a particular court building to access information, people can do exactly what they have so quickly become accustomed to doing for pretty much everything: search online to get what they need.

These smart solutions to common challenges are investments in money, time and efficiency that benefit the public and the judiciary. Chief Justice Judith Nakamura says online resolution will help streamline and fast track “cases that can be time consuming; they’re expensive for parties who have to travel and take time off of work to appear in court.” When combined with searchable court records, New Mexico’s justice system just got much more accessible, less intimidating and easier to deal with.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.