ALBUQUERQUE – The New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice has a message to the public: the lack of legal representation is causing serious injustice and suffering in civil cases.
All defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed a lawyer no matter what, but a lawyer is not guaranteed in civil cases and many people suffer serious consequences.
“People who can’t afford a lawyer in civil legal cases, or who can’t access legal resources, are losing their homes, losing their children, suffering from lack of benefits, suffering financial hardship because of large medical bills, even becoming homeless – due to a lack of legal representation in civil cases,” said New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon, who has been a member of the Commission for eight years and presided over thousands of civil cases before being appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. “We are here to alert the public to these injustices.”
The need is great. The Commission on Access to Justice estimates that only 20 percent of the civil legal cases receive legal representation. Last year, more than 16,000 cases received some form of civil legal assistance, but that means 64,000 cases are not receiving the civil legal assistance needed to ensure justice occurs.
The Commission on Access to Justice is working to increase legal resources for essential civil needs such as family law, housing issues, and consumer debt. The Commission has taken several steps to create more civil legal resources for those in need including access to plain-language online forms, self-help centers, legal advice and pro-bono attorneys.
“There’s a great injustice going on in our society,” said Liz McGrath, co-chair of the Commission on Access to Justice. “These cases are heartbreaking. Again and again people with serious needs are turned away or don’t even know there’s help.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court founded the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice in 2004 as an independent, statewide body dedicated to expanding and improving civil legal assistance in the state. Judges, attorneys, and legal service providers comprise the 18-member Commission. The commission’s goal is to increase access to justice for those with civil legal needs.
The Commission is working to address the barriers that make it difficult to access justice without legal resources.
The Commission’s intent for the campaign launched, “THINK ABOUT THIS,” is to alert the public that the problem exists. The campaign asks people to “think about” the serious consequences of the lack of legal representation or resources.
“You can’t solve the problem unless people care,” Justice Bacon said.
The campaign will include a small amount of TV ads, radio ads and newspaper ads. The campaign will start within the next week.
“We’re here today because we want to educate the public that these injustices exist and ask the public to get involved in this critical civil right for all New Mexicans,” McGrath said.