Legal office may face shuttering sentence

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

For 29 years, Lucy Lopez has guided low-income residents in Curry County through the legal system maze.

Now, her job is in peril.

The New Mexico Legal Aid office in Clovis where Lopez works as a paralegal has been 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, and disability benefits, and for victims of domestic violence. The Clovis office represents Curry, Roosevelt, and De Baca counties and handles about 75 cases a month, according to Lopez.

Interim director Rosalie Chavez said board of directors for the federally funded, nonprofit organization have recommended closing the Clovis office because of difficulty recruiting an attorney.

“The salary scale is too low and we can’t offer incentives to young lawyers coming out of law school,” Chavez said.

A Roswell attorney currently 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 have to travel to Roswell 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 Clovis New Mexico Legal Aid office does:

Provides free legal representation to low-income residents in civil cases
The kinds of cases which can be handled through Legal Aid:
Housing, welfare, disability benefits and domestic violence
How the Clovis New Mexico Legal Aid office is funded:
Legal Aid offices are funded through Legal Services Corp., a
private, nonprofit corporation established by Congress to ensure equal access to legal justice for all Americans.

By the numbers:
— 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