FARMINGTON — A Farmington-based legal aid organization is teaming up with the New Mexico Supreme Court to expand free and reduced cost legal coverage in San Juan County.
Daniel Abeyta, managing attorney at the Farmington office of DNA People's Legal Services, and Petra Maes, Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, will hold a pro bono representation seminar on Aug. 20 and offer continuing legal education credits to attorneys who attend and commit to take one case through DNA's volunteer lawyer program.
Pro bono is short for pro bono publico, a Latin phrase used to describe professional work done for free or at a reduced fee. It translates to "for the public good."
The Aug. 20 presentation will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at the San Juan Country Club. There will be an optional lunch held at noon. RSVPs are due by Thursday.
"The importance of pro bono work is enormous here," Abeyta said. "The number of unrepresented people in the Farmington District Court and the Magistrate Court is significant. People in landlord-tenant cases, custody cases ... in addition to helping the individual litigant, pro bono work helps facilitate a more efficient judicial process."
Self-representation in court can slow down the system, he said.
"Many of these people live uncomplicated lives, and then they're thrown involuntarily into these enormously complicated situations," Abeyta said.
He hopes the event will help consolidate and coordinate pro bono work in the Farmington area.
"There's an enormous amount of pro bono work that goes on under the radar," Abeyta said. "We want to consolidate the efforts. I think we're more powerful together than we are individually."
The New Mexico Supreme Court created a Commission for Access to Justice in 2005, Maes said.
"The commission issued a 10-step plan for pro bono access across the state in 2007," she said. "We looked at communities and decided what programs were needed. We determined that there were about 14,000 people at that time with civil issues that couldn't afford (an attorney). That situation has not improved."
Maes said she estimates that for each person an organization like DNA Legal Services helps, two are turned away because of a lack of resources.
These organizations receive funding from organizations such as the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, she said. Forced federal spending cuts, also known as the "sequester," have effected that funding.
"Farmington has had a very active group that has done some good work," Maes said. "This is an opportunity for (attorneys) to provide a much needed service. I'm really proud of what Farmington has done in the past."