They had just one question for the lawyer.
"How do people trust this public defender to represent them to the best of his ability when the minute they turn their backs, he's poking fun at them or mimicking what he thinks they represent?" said Anna-Jane Arroyo, one of two spokeswomen for about a half dozen Hispanic community groups angry over an incident involving Weber County's lead public defender.The question was posed by resident after resident to Arroyo and other community leaders following an incident caught on a courtroom camera in late March. The tape, which poked fun at the Hispanic background of defendants, was aired a few weeks later on a local television station, causing a flurry of angry phone calls and prompting apologies from the attorney and judge involved.
Late last week about a half dozen community leaders met with attorney Steve Laker, who runs the Weber County Public Defender's Office.
"Some commitments were made in that meeting," Arroyo said. "We're going to be watching to see if they're kept. . . . We're hopeful."
Laker did not return calls to the Deseret News.
The Mexican consul has launched a separate probe to determine whether the four Mexican nationals' human rights may have been violated when the exchange occurred. The comments came after the four men were arraigned, during which Laker acted as their attorney.
"If these things happened like was shown in the tape, there was prejudice on part of the public defender," Consul Ana Celia Perez de Meyer said.
Community groups are hoping to prevent a recurrence of the March incident. They're hoping the incident opened the eyes of those in the criminal justice system to some of the problems and stereotypes faced by people of color in Utah courts.
And they're hoping that in the immediate future, the Weber County attorney who defends those who cannot afford a lawyer will keep the promises made during their meeting last Wednesday.
The office has 11 attorneys, none of whom is bilingual, and they handle a very large Spanish-speaking clientele. Laker told group leaders what the workload of a public defender is like and said he would hire a Spanish-speaking Hispanic attorney and possibly bilingual clerical help.
"Everything seemed to come down to money," Arroyo said. But she's confident that Laker was sincere in his apology and in his commitment to make the office more sensitive to the needs of its Spanish-speaking population.
The group of community leaders is also being aided by the judge involved in the exchange, Parley Baldwin. They met with him on April 27, and they hope to have his help in addressing several statewide issues, including sensitivity training.