Legislative Update

April 3, 2001

Governor Johnson signs Senate Bill 584 (Adair)

Senate Bill 584, sponsored by Rod Adair (R-Roswell) was signed into law Monday. The bill raises the dollar limit for civil cases which can be heard in magistrate court (or in metropolitan court in Albuquerque). Effective July 1 that limit will be $10,000. It is currently $7,500.

A 1999 bill, also sponsored by Senator Adair, raised the limit from $5,000 to $7,500. The trying of these cases is commonly known as "small claims court."

This is another instance in which the senator from Roswell is attempting to make the courts, and the legal system itself, "friendlier" to the average citizen. "The fact is," said Adair, "prior to 1999 any claims between $5,000 and $10,000 were almost not worth pursuing." To do so meant getting on the State District Court docket. "At that level it becomes very difficult to represent oneself (known as pro se), so a claimant has to hire a lawyer." There is almost no proceeding which does not cost at least $5,000 in legal fees--usually paid up front. "So," Adair added, "a person could win a judgment of $5,000, but walk away with absolutely nothing after legal fees were paid." The two bills sponsored by Senator Adair have corrected that inequity.

Over the last two 60-day sessions, Adair has been able to bring small claims court into the modern world. In 1966 when New Mexico did away with the old Justice of the Peace system, an amount not in excess of $2,000 could be heard before a JP. Today, in constant dollars that would be equal to $10,518. "We have worked to ensure the taxpayer is being protected against the ravages of inflation---at least as far as small claims court is concerned," Adair concluded. "I appreciate Governor Johnson's support on this issue, as well as that of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle."

The bill passed the Senate 19-7 and the House 65-0. Adair cited House Judiciary Chairman, Representative W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, as playing a key role in getting the bill through the House of Representatives. He also noted that Representative Kiki Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, went out of his way to ensure the bill was voted on by the full House at about 11:15 AM on the last morning of the session, 45 minutes before adjournment. "I very much appreciate my Democrat colleagues for their conscientious efforts on behalf of this legislation," Adair said.