Each weekday from approximately 8:30 AM to 10:30 AM, three judges at the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse (BCMC) each hear twenty summary eviction cases. In most situations, plaintiff landlords (or, just as likely, their attorneys) are present. Defendant tenants, if they are able to appear, rarely contest the amount of back rent owed or other grounds listed in the eviction filing. Even if they know their rights, tenants can expect their hearings to last about 5 minutes; they have neither the time nor the experience to present a valid defense. As a result, almost all cases result in an eviction judgment for landlords.
Since June 2018, New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) has responded to the status quo by providing lawyer-for-the-day (LFTD) services at a physical table at BCMC. Although the organization may serve any person meeting the office’s conflicts, income, and legal residency/citizenship criteria, NMLA has only provided legal assistance to tenants. Those services take on multiple “tiers,” ranging from 5- to 10-minute conversations about the litigant’s case up to appearances as counsel during hearings.
At present, at least one staff attorney handles LFTD services on Wednesday mornings. In addition to standard in-court representation, they provide information, advice, and help completing paperwork. In 2019, NMLA served about 275 tenants through this program. Most of them have received little education or introduction to their civil legal rights, and they otherwise would not have been able to access legal help as they faced the loss of their homes. There were more eligible tenants than the LFTD service could provide assistance, i.e., there was scarcity in the intervention.