Legal office faces possible closure

By Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers

Lucy Lopez has spent 29 years guiding Curry County’s low-income residents through the legal system maze.

But now the Clovis paralegal’s job is in peril.

The New Mexico Legal Aid office in Clovis where Lopez works is being recommended for closure.

“We are needed (in Curry County),” Lopez said. “Some of the people we help can’t read, don’t have transportation and have no place else to turn.”

New Mexico Legal Aid provides free civil legal services in housing, welfare, disability benefits and for victims of domestic violence. The Clovis office represents Curry, Roosevelt, De Baca and Roosevelt counties and handles about 75 cases a month, according to Lopez.

Interim director Rosalie Chavez said board of directors for the federally funded, non-profit organization has recommended closing the Clovis office due to the lack of a local staff attorney.

“We have had no success recruiting an attorney for the Clovis office,” Chavez said. “The salary scale is too low and we can’t offer incentives to young lawyers coming out of law school.”

A Roswell attorney travels to Clovis to handle cases, Lopez said.
“We are a poor program,” Lopez said, “and it’s tough because of the distance.”

Lopez said if the Curry County office closes, she would be required to travel to Roswell in order to keep her job.

Chavez said the people in the Curry County area would still be represented, although where and how has yet to be determined.

“It does seem like a dire situation,” Chavez said, “but we will still try to keep services going.”


Fast facts
What the Legal Aid office does: The nonprofit law office provides free legal representation in civil cases to low-income residents.

The kinds of cases which can be handled through Legal Aid: Housing, welfare, disability benefits and domestic violence.

How the Clovis Legal Aid office is funded: Legal Aid offices are funded through the Legal Services Corp., private, non-profit corporation established by Congress seeking to ensure equal access to justice under the law for all Americans.

By the numbers:
2 — Paralegals employed at the Clovis Legal Aid office
60 — Civil cases pending in Curry County — including cases related to Social Security, Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Quotables:
“It would be devastating to our community if the Clovis Legal Aid office closed because private attorneys can’t help a client who can’t pay and they would have nowhere to turn for help.” — Lucy Lopez
“This (lack of available attorneys for Legal Aid offices) is a big problem in rural areas across the state. Gallup and Silver City are without attorneys as well.” — Rosalie Chavez