She’s there to help bold litigants

Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014 7:09 AM
Lindsay Patterson, self-represented litigant coordinator with the Self-Help Center at the 6th Judicial District Court in Durango, talks with a client. Patterson can offer people representing themselves in the legal system guidance about numerous issues.

Anyone intrepid enough to take on judicial proceedings personally won’t get any legal advice from Lindsay Patterson, but she can steer litigants in the right direction.

Patterson, the lone staff member in the Self-Help Center at the 6th Judicial District Court in Durango, orients people who plan to represent themselves in legal proceedings.

“I’m here to help people without an attorney,” Patterson said.

Anyone going pro se – as legal jargon terms it – can get required paperwork, information about filing fees and, if the matter appears daunting, suggested sources of help from Patterson.

Between telephone calls and face-to-face consultations, Patterson sees an average of 15 people a day.

“On some days, it’s nonstop,” Patterson said. “At other times, it’s slower.”

Help for go-it-alone litigants appears to be popular statewide.

In the first nine months of the year, 73,000 people consulted self-help centers in the state’s 22 judicial districts, said Jon Sarché, deputy public information officer at the Office of the State Court Administrator.

The number is expected to reach 100,000 by the end of the year, Sarché said.

In fact, 11 employees were added throughout the system in the current fiscal year, Sarché said.

It’s possible to handle many legal matters personally, Patterson said. She can shed light on steps to take in adoptions, garnishments, divorce, evictions, name changes, child custody, protection orders, guardianships, trusts, conservatorships, identity theft, estates, wills and small claims.

The Durango office serves La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties. Patterson is available in Bayfield on the second Monday and Silverton on the last Tuesday. She also answers telephone calls and email inquiries.

An inquiry in a foreign language brings an interpreter into the conversation via telephone, Patterson said. Interpreters are available in almost any language, she said.

In Durango, the most-used languages other than English are Spanish and Navajo, Patterson said.

At times she has to bite her tongue so that she doesn’t interject personal opinion, Patterson said. But she resists temptation and remains detached, she said.

Patterson doesn’t touch criminal matters that obviously require an attorney or water-court issues.

“Water-court matters are complex, and there is usually an attorney involved anyway,” Patterson said.

Patterson has been at her present job for 15 months and has been a state court employee for three years.

She clerked early on for 6th Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson and filled in for other court clerks for a year.

The variety of issues that came through the court gave her a solid grasp on how the judicial system works, Patterson said.

She touches bases every other week with the coordinator at the Office of the State Court Administrator, a source of PowerPoint presentations and conference calls with Patterson and her counterparts in the 22 judicial districts.

At her fingertips is a computer on which she can access the state court’s website, where there is information and forms to download.

A few issues dominate the self-help request list.

“Domestic issues – divorce or child custody – make up 40 to 50 percent of my contacts,” Patterson said.

“If a procedure isn’t clear, people can come back at each stage,” she said. “I can walk them through the steps.”

Patterson, born and raised in Farmington, graduated from Fort Lewis College in 2005 with a degree in English communications.

“I enjoy my work because I’ve always been interested in our legal system,” Patterson said. “At Fort Lewis College, I took classes on constitutional law and on sports and entertainment law.

“I’ve thought about studying law as a career, but right now, my family – I have boys, 7 and 4 – is my priority,” Patterson said. “But I’ve never crossed law off the list.”