Neighborhood black robes improving court access for all - Albuquerque Journal

Neighborhood black robes improving court access for all

Judges are typically seen or portrayed as stern-faced, blacked-robed folks in a large building on a high bench in a courtroom. In reality, we are members of your community who are working to bring the court to you or make it easier for you to access us. The judges and court staff of Bernalillo County, and around the state, work hard to make accessing justice easier.

In our civil and family courtrooms, we see the enormous number of people having to represent themselves and navigate the court system because they are unable to afford an attorney. To help, we are using technology and exploring creative ways to make it easier to get information, file paperwork and appear in court.

We are keenly aware self-represented people have long struggled to participate in their cases, get information and attend court hearings. Those challenges include difficulty in taking time off from work, arranging childcare, finding and getting to court and paying for parking. Here are a number of changes we at the Second Judicial District Court have made to help those representing themselves:

• Filing by email. In most family and civil cases you can file your paperwork by email. At the Second Judicial District Court, you can email your paperwork for filing by sending a PDF copy to albd-cvprosefilings@nmcourts.gov. For family court cases, the paperwork must be sent to albdecopydm@nmcourts.gov. You will receive a file-stamped copy back once your document is filed, and if you ask in the email, a copy will also be sent to the judge’s office, which alerts the judge’s office there is a matter in need of attention.

• Video appearances. You can attend most hearings virtually by using an app on your phone or computer.

• Online forms to download or have sent by email. The Second Judicial District Court has hundreds of forms and information packets you can download or have emailed to you. For example, we have forms and information packets available in divorce, custody, kinship-guardianship, name change, probate and expungement cases. We have general forms available too, to use for filing an answer to a civil complaint or preparing and filing a motion. You can call our Self-Help Center at (505) 841-6702 or email albdselfhelp@nmcourts.gov to get information about or have online forms emailed to you.

• Self-Help Center. Our Self-Help Center assists people in their civil and family law cases in person, over the phone and through email. The paralegals who work there cannot give legal advice, but they can address commonly asked questions, help you navigate the courthouse and court system and provide forms and information as stated above.

• Mediation services in Family Court. The Second Judicial District Court recently began offering “Mediation Mondays” to self-represented parties in family court cases who cannot afford to pay for mediation. Our Court Clinic also offers free mediation services for child-custody issues.

You can still come down to the courthouse in person to get information and file your paperwork. We’d love to see you. And we have also made it easier for anyone with access to technology to obtain information and participate in their case.

We, your neighborhood judges, know it can be intimidating to participate in a court case. But we hope, by improving on ways to find and connect you to information and in representing yourself, that you can better access justice, when and if you need it.

Judge Jane C. Levy is presiding judge of Family Court at the Second Judicial District Court and co-chair of the Second Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee. Judge Erin B. O’Connell is a civil judge at the Second Judicial District Court, co-chair of the Second Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee and Co-Chair of the New Mexico Access to Justice Commission.

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