Attorneys will offer free advice at San Juan County Legal Fair

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Attorneys will be providing free legal advice at the annual San Juan County Legal Fair from noon to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25, at the Aztec district courthouse.

The attorneys will provide advice on topics that include probate, criminal law, child custody and support, tribal law, veterans benefits, immigration, guardianship and landlord-tenant issues.

Attorney Jason Eley will present information and answer questions from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on legal issues surrounding the Gold King Mine spill.

Retired Judge William Birdsall will present a seminar on payday loans, and attorney Scott Cameron of The Fair Lending Center will present a seminar on foreclosure.

David Cowen, president of the San Juan County Bar Association, said last year's event was well attended, but his association hopes for a greater turnout this year.

"You hope to increase participation and the number of people served," he said. "That is the goal every year."

Judge Daylene Marsh said the legal fair was created about five years ago by Birdsall to assist local residents with legal matters. She said about 62 percent of people who attended the fair last year were low income, but the fair is not limited to such residents.

Marsh said fair organizers asked Ealy to present information on the Aug. 5 mine spill due to the number of people who have come to the courts with legal questions about the incident.

"People are talking about it and asking questions," Marsh said. "So, hopefully, Mr. Ealy will be able to answer those questions."

Ealy told The Daily Times in late August he was assisting residents in Durango, Colo., with claims related to property value depreciation, loss of business and costs related to delayed water service.

Birdsall said he will provide those who attend his seminar on payday loans with form letters they can use to communicate with lenders and court material needed if an action is taken against them by lenders.

"The intent is not to help people evade what they are contractually required to do, but in a number of cases, these people borrow this money with great need, and they are not financially able to handle a loan of that size," Birdsall said. "The idea of the presentation is to give them an idea of what rights they do have and also a warning about loans they should avoid."

Birdsall said one such example of a loan to avoid was a so-called "holiday" or "tax" loan, by which a person will borrow money against his or her expected tax return. The loan is called a holiday loan because the money is sometimes used to buy Christmas presents, which is a mistake, according to Birdsall.

"Don't get a holiday loan," Birdsall said. "Buy on layaway. Don't borrow just to buy presents and then put yourself in a bind come January."

Marsh said Cameron has presented his seminar on the foreclosure process and homeowner rights at legal fairs throughout the state.

In 2014, there were 137 foreclosure actions filed in San Juan County, Marsh said, and to date in 2015, there have been 143 actions filed.

"We figured it would help the people here," Marsh said.

Marsh said people who attend the morning seminars will be able to sign up first for legal assistance. No one who comes seeking help will be turned away.

The San Juan County Legal Fair is organized by the Eleventh Judicial District, the San Juan County Bar Association, New Mexico Legal Aid, the Volunteer Attorney Program and DNA People's Legal Services.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.