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The Volunteer Attorney Program


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You Made Pro Bono Month Was a Huge Success!

By Jane Zhi, Volunteer Attorney Program

 

Throughout October, 772 low-income New Mexicans across the state received free legal services from 216 volunteer attorneys, under the guidance of the Access to Justice Commission, co-chaired by Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes and Judge Sarah Singleton.

 

The legal fairs serve the dual purpose of bringing attention to the increased need for pro bono services and commending those lawyers who volunteer year round. Events were held in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Roswell, Silver City, Deming, Taos, Portales, Farmington, Alamogordo, and Ruidoso.

 

Judge Sylvia LaMar, chair of the 1st Judicial District ATJ Committee, said 45 people were helped in Santa Fe at its consumer law clinic at a senior center, while 200 received consultations with attorneys at the Law-La-Palooza event at an Albuquerque North Valley senior center.

 

The participation of social and legal service providers, as well as support from the State Bar Paralegal Division and UNM law students contributed to the success in Albuquerque, reported 2nd Judicial District co-chairs Judge Alan Malott and Judge Shannon Bacon. In addition, the Supreme Court Law Library provided research assistance and access to the Internet and printers in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. 

 

In Las Vegas, attorneys assisted 33 individuals, and in Roswell, 80 people were helped. In Silver City, 15 individuals attended a family law clinic, and 65 people were served by 18 attorneys at another event there. In Deming, 49 people were assisted, and 28 people received help at the Portales/Clovis Ask-a-Lawyer event.

 

The legal fairs in Taos and Farmington drew record numbers, with 41 people assisted in Taos and 132 people receiving help in Farmington.

 

Co-chairs Judge James Waylon Counts and Judge Angie Schneider expressed their gratitude for the dedicated volunteers in Alamogordo and Ruidoso, who were able to help a total of 84 people.

 

Meanwhile, lunchtime CLE programs were held in Santa Fe, Taos, Portales, Farmington, and Gallup. In Santa Fe, more than 50 attorneys attended a CLE held in conjunction with the 1st Judicial District Bar Association, with Judge Nan Nash presenting “Ethical Issues in Pro Bono.” In Taos and Gallup, Dorene Kuffer presented “The Ethics of Limited Presentation,” and Erin Olson gave the talk in Portales. Daniel Abeyta’s gave his CLE talk, “Ethics of Unbundling: Rules of Limited Representation and Pro Bono Clinics,” in Farmington. 

 

In Lea County, members of the local bar tackled domestic violence, with Judge Mark Sánchez and domestic violence commissioner Laura Castillo giving a workshop on preparing orders of protection. 

 

New Mexico Legal Aid held an open house at Santa Ana Pueblo to inform the public about the kinds of pro bono services available.  

In the 7th Judicial District, pro bono committee chair Michelle Ritt Martinez recognized the volunteer attorneys in Catron, Socorro, and Sierra counties for their efforts serving New Mexicans.

 

Justice Barbara J. Vigil attended festivities in Santa Fe and Gallup; Justice Charles W. Daniels thanked volunteers in Albuquerque; and Chief Justice Maes offered remarks to attorneys in Farmington.   

 

In Roswell, Judge Michael E. Vigil honored attorney Kelly Cassels for his contributions to pro bono in the 5th Judicial District. Cassels regularly attends pro bono clinics and Wills for Heroes events, and is instrumental in getting others involved in the process. Said Clarke Coll of his former law partner, “Kelly has a heart for other people. He has been a leader in Roswell for a number of years.”   

 

In Portales, Justice Edward L. Chávez spoke about the need for continued support of pro bono services, and recognized Calvin Neumann’s pro bono work and leadership. Upon his retirement as a public defender in 2004, Neumann began volunteering with the 9th Judicial District Drug Court Program. He attends every men’s group session, Drug Court program meeting, and Drug Court session. In addition, he gives each graduate a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, and buys every participant a birthday cake. Neumann is an invaluable volunteer. 

 

The fact that so many Supreme Court justices and Court of Appeals judges traveled across the state to offer their gratitude to volunteers demonstrates their strong support for pro bono service. 

 

Thank you to all who made pro bono month so successful! The demand for pro bono legal services has never been greater, and attorneys in New Mexico have risen to meet that challenge.  It is ATJ’s goal to capitalize on that momentum and keep the spirit of pro bono service alive throughout the year. For more information and to volunteer, contact Jane Zhi at jzhi@nmbar.org or 505-797-6040.