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Metro Court balances justice with social distancing

We are in the midst of a great pandemic, the likes of which the earth has not seen for about 100 years.

Are you curious to know what have we learned since the last occurrence? Since then, we have made significant advances in medicine, health care and science. We are now able to communicate the dangers around the world in a split second. Our current resources allow us to sustain and endure for long periods of time, and our product supply lines are abundant. Manufacturers and businesses from around the world are able to supply or redesign health care and safety products with surprising swiftness. Governments are able to manage people, resources and economies. They are able to take remedial steps to ensure public safety and reduce and, hopefully, eradicate health concerns.

From a technological standpoint we are very advanced and much better prepared today than 100 years ago.

But, what have we learned about ourselves? Does human nature include selflessness and/or a desire to help others in such troubled times? I like to think it does! Does justice and fairness come to a screeching halt when such concerns befall us? I’d like to think it’s during these moments when our highest ideals are indispensable.

Justices and judges are committed and sworn to upholding the constitutions and laws of the state of New Mexico and the United States. This is no easy task on normal days given the amount of conflict and concerns that must be dealt with and addressed. During these days of tumult, wouldn’t you agree that it’s even more important that an innocent person have their day in court, that a victim of crime remains entitled to a resolution and remedy, and that the hard-working people of our community continue to have a place to peacefully resolve their civil disputes? In a democratic society, I like to think even during these days of distraught that our enlightened virtues are all still possible.

As one of our fellow judges so eloquently stated: “it seems obvious to say we are facing a dark and storm-tossed ocean of unknown challenges. We are the judiciary. We are always necessary, but it is in times of crisis when our constitutions and laws are most tested, and therefore when we are most needed. This is our time.”

With these sentiments in mind, this is what the judiciary in general, and Metropolitan Court, in particular, has done in order to keep the halls of justice open and for all citizens to continue to have equal access to the courts:

• Judges are conducting audio and video teleconferencing for civil and criminal proceedings, except when an emergency requires in-person appearances.

• Needless to say, the courts have increased cleaning measures throughout the courthouses and rearranged courtrooms to allow for social distancing to protect those when in-person appearances are necessary.

• In Metropolitan Court in order to find out the status or your case or appear by phone or video, you may contact this hotline number: (505) 841-9810.

• For those who are incarcerated, we are conducting video conferencing so they can speak with their attorneys, privately, and during court proceedings are able to converse with the other parties including the judge.

• We’re also cooperating with law enforcement to make sure we’re efficient in having officer testimony so officers are kept on the street where they are needed during this time.

• The court has also taken many additional steps to address public health concerns. We have restructured court calendars, staggered hearing start times, reduced caseloads, continued civil jury trials and delayed criminal jury trials, except in cases of emergency. In landlord-tenant matters related to economic and health concerns, we have also extended the time to allow families to stay in the property and for parties to possibly work out an agreement that could be beneficial to both landlords and tenants. We are actively assisting in the development of a mediation program to help reach long-term solutions in rental housing arrangements.

• We are permitting jurors to phone in to determine if they are needed, rather than reporting in person. The phone number for jurors to call at Metropolitan Court is (505) 841-8141. Furthermore, Metropolitan Court is allowing the filing of documents via email at metrpleadings@nmcourts.gov or fax at (505) 222-4831.

We encourage the public to stay safe and ask you to stay home if you’re not feeling well. If you have any questions at all, please contact the hotline at (505) 841-9810.

I like to think that together, this is our time and we will get through this, working together!

Judge Frank Sedillo presides over the civil division of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the judge individually and not those of the court.

 



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