In your lifetime, you are likely to be in receipt of a summons for court. If you do not read any further, read this: Please try to control your response and do not throw away or dismiss a summons.
To the first point, do not let a summons upset you. This is a notification of a civil or criminal action, and although your first instinct may be surprise, dread or other emotion — please do not let this rule your response.
Instead, take a moment and read carefully over the summons. To the second point, keep the summons somewhere safe as it contains essential information that you will need later. Consider taking a picture of it on your phone or adding the information to a calendar.
A summons is a notification and an order to report to court. You can receive a summons for many reasons: jury service, as a defendant, as a respondent, as a plaintiff or as a petitioner.
A summons, regardless of the court, has some very straightforward information at the top.
First, it will include the court name. New Mexico state courts are titled, “State of New Mexico, Valencia County,” followed by either the Judicial District or Magistrate Division. Similarly, municipal courts will begin with either the city, town or the village name.
If you are a juror, this identifies the court you need to contact if you have any questions about the paperwork attached. If you call the court, simply identify yourself as a recipient of a jury summons.
If you are a party to a case, either as a plaintiff, petitioner, defendant or a respondent, you will typically find the case number on the right side. This number is important if you call the court, as it is unique to your case and will help whoever answers to find your case and respond to questions.
Opposite the case number, on the left side, is the identification of the parties to the case. The first name(s) are the plaintiff or petitioner who initiated the lawsuit and the second name(s) are the defendant or respondent.
In criminal actions, it would read State of New Mexico vs. John Doe. In a civil action, it would read the name of the entity or person(s) vs. the name of the entity or person(s).
While the language following the parties and case number may differ; look and find the following essential information — the date of the hearing, the time of the hearing and the place of the hearing. Due to COVID-19, internet hearings are common for many hearing types. Your state court summons will contain either instructions on how to join the internet hearing or instructions to call the court to obtain that information.
In state criminal matters, a clerk of the court certifies service through mail. You can find this toward the bottom of the summons. It will display the date of service — the formal notice of the legal action — as well the names of all parties served and the address the court used for service. In civil matters, the service of the summons is the responsibility of the plaintiff or petitioner.
If you have an attorney on your case, subsequent communications will take place between the court and your attorney and between your attorney and yourself.
I have a conflict with the court date. Now what?
Contact the court, in writing, explain your situation and request a change of date. Most courts accept filings at the counter, through the mail, by fax and through email. If you have an attorney on your case, contact your attorney.
I lost my summons. Now what?
This can and does happen. If you remember the name of the court, you can contact the court and provide some personal identifiers to help them locate your case if you do not have your case number.
If you do not remember the name of the court, go to caselookup.nmcourts.gov/caselookup/. Type in some requested information and it will find your state case(s). State courts include district, metropolitan and magistrate. The online case look-up does not display municipal courts.
I lost or forgot about my summons and received a warrant letter. Now what?
The warrant letter, like the summons has the court name and case number at the top. Contact the court immediately after receiving a warrant letter. Ask about how to surrender to the court or other means to resolve your warrant. If you have an attorney on your case, contact your attorney.
Another source of assistance is a centralized call center operated by the Administrative Office of the Courts. It can provide basic information in English and Spanish about court services, cases and how to comply with citations, summonses and warrants. Call 855-court-4 or 855-268-7804. The call center is available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Please remember, communication is key to successful navigation of the judicial system.
Beware of jury scams
Neither New Mexico courts nor federal courts require the payment of fines or fees for jury service. If you receive an email or letter asking for a payment, or directing you to call for the same, this is a scam.
(Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.)
Judge John Chavez, guest columnist
Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.