Clovis Legal Aid office finding footing

Benna Sayyed

Matthew Rowland received a layoff notice two weeks after he started working as managing attorney of the New Mexico Legal Aid office in Clovis.

“I was calling saying, ‘Is this some kind of a joke. I just got here,’” Rowland said.

That was one year ago. Now things are looking up at the local office of the nonprofit organization that represents low-income New Mexicans in civil cases.

Rowland did not lose his job. He said his job scare was caused by a cut to the civil legal services budget in the state legislature which turned out to be less severe that expected.

Gloria Hernandez, a paralegal in the Clovis office since it opened in 1979, said the New Mexico Legal Aid director recently notified the office that funding is stable and the office is safe from closure in 2012.

“Recently it has been good since our attorney Matthew Rowland has come in,” Hernandez said.

“This has been one of the best years in the past five years,” Hernandez said. “We’ve had a large number of cases turn over and many satisfied clients, and right now I’m very happy with the way we are doing work here.”

The Clovis office averages about 75 cases a month. The office closed 40 more cases in 2011 than in 2010, according to Rowland.

Rowland attributes the higher case turnover to a larger amount of outreach in Curry, Roosevelt, and De Baca counties. Rowland said his office is also doing more direct representation.

“New Mexico is a very poor state,” said Rowland, who transferred from the Socorro office when it closed around January 2011. “I looked at it as a good opportunity to get a lot of courtroom experience right away and kind of be part of a new office in a community that hadn’t really had that type of service available to it before,”

New Mexico Legal Aid provides free assistance with civil legal issues through outreach, training, education and representation. Rowland said his office handles cases that involve domestic violence, family law, housing, consumer law issues, social security and social security disability benefits.

“I believe New Mexico Legal Aid is the only organization in the state that provides substantial direct representation to people in court,” Rowland said. “There’s really no other organization in this four-county area that provides this kind of service,”

When New Mexico Legal Aid offers services legal advice on an issue to full representation.

For example, in a divorce case New Mexico Legal Aid can represent an individual from the filing of the petition for divorce through the trial.

Another example was landlord-tenant cases where the tenants fell behind on rent and eviction proceedings were filed against them. He said the Clovis office negotiated a settlement with the landlord that kept the tenants from being evicted.