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The free service can handle certain lawsuits online

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AZTEC — A pilot program from the state court system to manage debt collection lawsuits online is being expanded statewide this month.

The Online Dispute Resolution service allows both parties of a lawsuit to resolve a money due/debt case using a smartphone, computer or compatible device with internet access, according to an Administrative Office of the Courts press release.

The system, piloted in courts for the Second, Sixth and Ninth judicial districts, will expand across New Mexico on Sept. 1 to all magistrate and district courts.

Chief District Judge Karen Townsend of the 11th Judicial District Court told The Daily Times the system is an excellent tool for people in San Juan and McKinley county, which fall under the jurisdiction of the 11th Judicial District.

"If people took advantage of it, I think they could resolve a lot of disputes without coming to court," Townsend said.

About 3,000 cases were filed in San Juan County from April 2018 to April 2019 would qualify for the service, according to figures provided by Townsend.

There were 1,422 money due and debt cases filed in district court and 1,551 cases filed in magistrate courts filed.

A majority of the 3,000 cases which qualify stem from defendants not paying credit card bills, not making car payment or owing a hospital money, Townsend said.

The service does not cost the defendants anything and no attorneys are required.

The online service starts after a complaint is filed against a defendant, a summons is served in the case and the defendant files a response to the complaint.

There are about nine steps in the process of handling a debt collection case in the program.

Either party can request a mediator at no charge to help reach a settlement agreement or ask questions about the process.

If a settlement is reached, the agreement is automatically filed with the respective court.

If an agreement is not reached, the case will proceed in the respective court and could require hiring an attorney.

Townsend said she heard the courts piloting the program earlier this year had really good results but hope more people take advantage of the service.

"It's going to get our cases closed quicker because they won't have to see a judge," Townsend said. "It will reduce our judicial time."

Similar programs have been successful in other states, where it has been expanded to more cases including traffic and domestic, Townsend said.

Residents can learn more about the services at https://adr.nmcourts.gov/odr.aspx.

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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