AP NEWS

New Mexico courts push online tool for resolving debt

June 3, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s judicial system began rolling out a tool Monday aimed at making the process of settling credit card, medical and other debt more convenient by allowing people to handle cases against them online rather than in court.

State Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura touted the program as a speedier and less expensive option for people to handle their debt and money-due lawsuits by allowing them to log on to a website from a smartphone or a personal computer. Often viewed as routine, the cases still remain costly and time-consuming for the courts, as well as the few defendants who have the means to hire attorneys and those who must take time away from work for a court appearance, she said.

“They get to negotiate without coming to the courthouse,” added Judge Jane Levy, of the Second Judicial Court in Bernalillo County. “It is an opportunity to bring justice into people’s living rooms.”

Across New Mexico, collectors — ranging from banks to hospitals and credit card companies — filed more than 30,000 debt and money-due lawsuits in a recent one-year period, according to court figures. Under the new program, the state will pay $15 per resolved case to Tyler Technologies, the software company that won the state contract for the program.

The courts received $450,000 from the Legislature for the pilot program — a sum that could potentially cover nearly the entire annual cost of processing the debt and money-due cases statewide when and if the program expands to all courts.

People who prefer to resolve their cases in court will still have that option, officials said.

The dispute resolution program was available on Monday in several rural district and magistrate courts across southern New Mexico — including in Silver City, Deming, Lordsburg, Clovis and Portales.

It will be available in Bernalillo County’s district court next Monday and its Metropolitan Court on June 17, with plans to eventually make it available statewide.

The multi-step process for the online resolution process would start after a credit card company or other collector delivers a summons to a person they say owes them money and the debtor has an initial chance to respond.

Each side would have a chance to answer a series of questions about the debt in dispute, and a volunteer mediator could be provided free of charge upon request early in the first two weeks of the process.

If no settlement agreement is reached during the exchange, then the court will step in and contact both parties with next steps.

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