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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) started June 3 as a pilot program in courts in the Sixth and Ninth Judicial Districts. It begins June 10 in the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque and on June 17 in the Metropolitan Court in Bernalillo County.  The service will be expanded statewide later.

“New Mexico courts are committed to advancing judicial excellence through initiatives such as Online Dispute Resolution,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said in announcing the online service. “The innovative online service for settling cases costs less and is much faster than going to trial in a dispute over unpaid debts. With programs like ODR, our courts are able to expand public access to justice services, reduce the time to resolve some civil cases and improve court efficiencies.”

With ODR, the parties in a debt or money due lawsuit can negotiate at their convenience through online exchanges from home, a business or any location with internet access using a computer, smartphone or mobile device. The online system asks questions of each party about what they want to potentially resolve the lawsuit.

Offers are exchanged and if an agreement is reached, the online system automatically prepares a settlement document and electronically files it with the court. Both parties may agree to request the help of a trained mediator during the first two weeks of negotiation. If no agreement is reached after 30 days, the online negotiation ends and the case moves forward in court.

“Growing numbers of New Mexicans are representing themselves in civil lawsuits. Online Dispute Resolution helps self-represented parties by making it easier to navigate a legal system that the public often finds complicated and confusing,” said Second Judicial District Judge Jane C. Levy, who led a judicial team on the ODR implementation.

The ODR system also responds to the public’s increasing desire to conduct business online.

 “People increasingly want to take care of their business online. Our courts understand that,” said Sixth Judicial District Court Chief Judge Jennifer DeLaney. “Online Dispute Resolution offers a way for people living in rural areas to avoid traveling long distances to court hearings if they have filed a lawsuit over owed money or they are sued because of a debt.”

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Donna Mowrer said, “This is a cost-effective way for businesses and individuals to negotiate settlement agreements for disputes over debt and money due. It can take months, or sometimes years, for a civil lawsuit to proceed to trial.”

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Sandra Engel said, “Electronic commerce companies like eBay and PayPal have long used online dispute resolution for disputes between buyers and sellers. To better serve the public, courts are embracing the same technology for certain civil lawsuits.”

About 31,000 debt and money due lawsuits were filed statewide in the past year, from April 2017 through April 2018.  To learn more about the new online service, including watching a video featuring the Chief Justice, visit the ODR website of New Mexico Courts. https://adr.nmcourts.gov/odr.aspx.


State Bar Names District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program “Outstanding Program” for 2019

The State Bar of New Mexico has named the Second Judicial District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program (JSDP) its “Outstanding Legal Program” for 2019.

This annual award recognizes outstanding or extraordinary law-related programs that serve the legal profession and the public. The State Bar selected the Second District Court’s JSDP for this award based on its use of nationally recognized, evidence-based methods for establishing public safety risk and appropriate supervision and oversight for defendants awaiting trial.

Staff members of the Second Judicial District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program. The State Bar of New Mexico recognized the group’s work to improve the criminal justice system with Program of Year Award for 2019.  

 

These evidence-based approaches have fostered a new culture with JSDP that is helping to both improve public safety and increase fairness within the criminal justice system. These approaches include the adoption of scientifically validated tools that help determine the proper level of supervision for individuals placed under JSDP’s authority, as well as referring individuals to treatment courts and diversion programs when appropriate.

JSDP supports four treatment courts that help identify root causes of behavior that brings individuals into the criminal justice system, and then teaches them skills for coping with those issues so they can live productive, crime-free lives going forward. One of those treatment courts, the Felony Repeat Offender DWI Court has proven especially effective at addressing New Mexico’s unique struggles with felony DWI offenders. Since its 2013 inception, this court has graduated 35 individuals with a zero-percent recidivism rate.  

 The other treatment courts JSDP supports are:

  • Mental Health Court, which strives to identify individuals in need of mental health services and get them into a treatment program in the early stages of their entrance into the criminal justice system.
  • Young Adult Court, which relies on recent research pointing to the need for unique methods of understanding and changing the behavior of people between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Healing to Wellness Court, which is a track within Adult Felony Drug Court that incorporates holistic healing strategies into its treatment programs.

“The JSDP is very deserving of the Outstanding Program of the Year Award,” said Second Judicial District Chief Judge Stan Whitaker. “The dedicated individuals in that program are having a major positive impact on our community by employing methods that are improving the criminal justice system and boosting public safety.  We also owe a major debt of gratitude to the Bernalillo County Commission for funding much of JSDP’s operations. That commitment helps make Bernalillo County a better and safer community.”

"The Bar Association has recognized the outstanding commitment and hard work that Second Judicial District Court judges and staff put into establishing innovative JSD programs that are proven to make our communities safer,” said Bernalillo County Commission Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins.  “JSD programs support the county's efforts to prevent new criminal activity by diverting high-need individuals who typically cycle in and out of the criminal justice system but who can break that cycle when given the right treatment and support."

JSDP will receive its Outstanding Program of Year award at State Bar of New Mexico’s annual meeting on August 2, 2019


Multiple staff members in the Second Judicial District Court Clerk’s Office recently earned compliments from members of the public for providing outstanding customer service.

Those employees, who all happen to work in the Civil Division of the clerk’s office, are:

  • Patricia Serna
  • Sandy Stegeman
  • Catherine Chavez
  • Dragica "Dora" Bozovic
  • Shellene Romero

All showed extreme patience and caring attitudes in helping customers navigate the court system.

One pro se litigant said Patricia Serna was “absolutely wonderful in helping me sort through my mess and put it all in order.”

Another customer praised Sandy Stegeman for not giving up when the initial search for information on a case proved difficult. “I am beyond grateful to her for making my life so much easier today,” this customer said. “She was extremely patient, and it is obvious that she cares about her job.”

A customer who was shaken up after receiving a court summons had similar words for Dragica "Dora" Bozovic. “I was not sure what to do when I received the summons,” the customer said. “Dora was so nice and pleasant in explaining things to me. She did not rush me; I just wanted to put in a good word for her.”

Catherine Chavez was especially nice and professional in offering assistance, according to a citizen who contacted the clerk’s office by telephone.

A retired police officer who said he has dealt with court clerks around the country said Shellene Romero provided the best customer service he has ever received in any court setting. “You need to be sure to keep her,” he said.


In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, these shadows are the prisoners’ reality. One day the prisoners manage to break out of their shackles and discover the true reality around them. Before my externship  at the Second Judicial District Court (SJDC), my view of the law and the legal profession was like that of the prisoners, merely shadows of the true reality. Throughout my externship at the SJDC, I became “unshackled” and my understanding of what the law truly was began to take form. 

Whether it was discussing the “political thicket” in Baker v. Carr with the Court Executive Officer, analyzing bills in the current legislative session for the Court’s General Counsel, or witnessing closing arguments in high-profile cases, my experience at the SJDC was invaluable. Although in the classroom students are taught the law and provided examples on how it would apply, nothing compares to being fully immersed in one of the busiest district courts in the state. From employment law to the rules of evidence, I was able to see real world (insert cave pun here) application of previously bewildering legal concepts. Additionally, this judicial externship provided me with a complete rotation of the various divisions of the Court (Family, Civil, Criminal, and Children’s Court), an experience I believe every law student should have. I was given an opportunity to expand my love for constitutional and employment law, while also discovering a new love for criminal and family law. 

Although I gained a plethora of knowledge on the law in the various divisions, I believe the greatest gift this externship gave me was the knowledge of the legal profession and how to treat others in the legal community. The way the SJDC not only treats its staff, but the public at large, is nothing short of extraordinary. Everyone at the Court has the best interests of the community at heart, providing a perfect reminder of why I decided to pursue my dream of becoming an attorney in the first place, to help others. With this new outlook on life and the law, I am now prepared to explore this amazing new world!

Richard Azar served his judicial externship in the Second Judicial District Court during the Spring Semester of 2019. He will start his third year of UNM Law School in the fall. 

Click here to View PDF Version

 


Thirty-six family court cases were fully resolved during the Second Judicial District Court’s recent Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation Day.
 
That number represents 75% of the total cases considered that day. The parties reached partial settlements in five additional cases, pushing the event’s overall success rate to 85%.  
 
The Second District Court hosts Peter Johnstone day each year to offer self-represented litigants a chance to work through family law issues free of charge with a mediator’s assistance. Peter H. Johnstone, a family law attorney in Albuquerque, was one of the early organizers, and the event was named in his honor following his death in 2013.
 
There are two requirements for parties wishing to participate in a Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation event:
 
      • Neither party can be represented by an attorney
      • Cases must be referred by the Family Court. 
 
This year, the court referred 48 cases. Seventy-one attorneys and 16 University of New Mexico law students volunteered to mediate the cases. 
 
"Peter H. Johnstone Day is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Aja Brooks, director of the Second District Court’s Center for Self-Help and Dispute Resolution. “The parties receive free facilitation services from top-notch attorneys, and by the end of the day, most reach some sort of agreement with regards to their family law issue. The attorneys get the satisfaction of giving back; most of them joined the practice of law to help people, and that is exactly what they get to do on Peter Johnstone Day."
 
 

A delegation from Afghanistan—including a prosecutor and a police officer—visited the Second Judicial District Court in April as part of a trip to learn how U.S. courts handle domestic violence cases.

The group—which also visited courts in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Detroit—hopes to find best practices that they can apply  in Afghanistan’s judicial system. Global Ties ABQ, a non-profit organization the works to foster ongoing relationships between Albuquerque residents and international visitors, sponsored the Albuquerque trip. 

At the Second Judicial District Court, the Afghan delegation observed a domestic violence hearing and then shared their impressions with the hearing officer, Rosemary Traub, and Family Court Presiding Judge Debra Ramirez over lunch.

Interpreters facilitated the conversation. The prosecutor, Abdul Haq Anabia, said having a judge or hearing officer render a decision in a domestic violence case is a stark contrast from the process in Afghanistan, where all domestic violence such cases are resolved through mediation. 

Judge Ramirez said culture plays a role in the different manners in which courts handle domestic violence cases in the U.S. versus Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan, the focus is always on reuniting the family,” Judge Ramirez said. “In the U.S., even though we like to see families work out their differences and remain together, there are times when we consider it appropriate to draw a line and say reunification is not possible—and that line is when violence is occurring.”

Despite the differing approaches, both the Afghanis and their American counterparts agreed their overriding goal is to decrease incidents of domestic violence.  Haq Anabia said the mediation process in Afghanistan offers families support to help curb violence.

“Overall, we are trying to decrease violence against women in Afghanistan,” said Gita Qaderi, a female police officer in Kabul.

Qaderi also expressed appreciation for the number of programs in the U.S. that promote awareness of domestic violence and offer services and resources for survivors. “We need to have more programs that build awareness,” she said. “I am hoping to go back and focus on such programs.” 

 

Click here to ViewPDF Version


Cassie & Judge WardOne of the most recognizable faces at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Justice Center belongs to Cassie, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever.

Cassie interacts with families, especially those with children, who need her friendship. When a girl is called to testify about traumatic abuse or neglect, Cassie might sit at her feet to provide solace. Or Cassie might stay with a sobbing boy who has just been separated from his parents after being placed into protective custody.

"Cassie provides great comfort in the courtroom and gets smiles from everyone she meets when she is in the building," Children’s Court Judge Marie Ward said.  "She is a silent companion who has a way of removing the edge from very difficult situations."

Cassie has been a presence at the Juvenile Justice Center since late 2013. She is a specially-trained Courthouse CASA dog, a name that is derived from the acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cassie was purchased using a grant by New Mexico Kids Matter, the CASA program in Albuquerque. CASA believes that every child who has been abused, neglected or is in foster care deserves to have a dedicated volunteer advocate speaking up for them in court.

"We are very fortunate to have Cassie, both as a resource and as a friend," Judge Ward said.  "She brings a lift to everyone she meets and she is especially valuable to the children who need her most."

Cassie was trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, a Santa Fe-based accredited service dog organization that also provides service dogs for the Veterans Court program. Courthouse dogs have been used around the country since 2003.

For more information about CASA please visit www.nmkidsmatter.org.



​Archived News

Over 150 Bernalillo County Residents Got Free Legal Help at 2018’s First Law-La-Palooza Event

More than 150 people got answers to their legal questions at 2018’s first Law-La-Palooza free legal fair.

The event was held at the Barelas Community Center, 801 Barelas Rd. SW, Albuquerque on Thursday, March 15, 2018.

Legal experts, including several district court judges, attorneys and law students volunteered their time to speak with people who couldn’t afford to pay for legal advice. At a Law-La-Palooza, citizens get 30 minutes to speak with an attorney or legal expert about any legal issues they are facing at no cost.

The Law-La-Palooza legal fairs are designed to help low-income people and families facing a wide range of legal issues, including divorce, custody, bankruptcy, contracts, landlord/tenant, creditor/debtor, child support, kinship/guardianship, wills, probates, personal injury, powers of attorney, public benefits, unemployment, immigration, Social Security, disability, IRS tax issues foreclosure, and name changes.

The fairs are sponsored by the Second Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee and the Volunteer Attorney Program, a program of Legal Aid New Mexico.

The District Court’s Pro-Bono Committee—co-chaired by Judge Shannon Bacon and Judge Alan Malott—has been hosting Law-La- Paloozas each year since 2010. Over that time, roughly 8,000 individuals—about 1,000 each year—have gotten help with their legal problems at these events.

"New Mexicans continue to struggle in a difficult economy which has left one in five of us at or near the poverty level. Legal problems exacerbate the effects of poverty and can foster a cycle of failure that derails lives," said Judge Malott. "New Mexico lawyers have shown both responsibility and compassion for those less fortunate by providing free consultations to thousands of residents through Law-La- Palooza legal fairs in Bernalillo County and across the state. The need continues and I know the Bar will remain responsive."

The Second Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee and the Volunteer Attorney Program, a program of Legal Aid New Mexico, host four Law-La- Palooza events each year. The full schedule for remaining 2018 fairs is below. All events run from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM.

  • Law-La-Palooza - July 12, 2018, Alamosa Community Center, 6900 Gonzales Rd SW, Albuquerque
  • Law-La-Palooza - October 18, 2018, North Domingo Baca Community Center, 7521 Carmel Ave NE, Albuquerque
  • Law-La-Palooza - December 13, 2018, Loma Linda Community Center, 1700 Yale Blvd SE, Albuquerque

For more information about these events, contact Aja Brooks, Pro Bono Coordinator for the Volunteer Attorney program, at 505-814- 5033 or ajab@nmlegalaid.org.

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