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Task force seeks more Hispanics

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Members of a task force on racial fairness in Utah's justice system recommended increasing Hispanic membership on the panel in response to a request from community groups.

But those groups said the proposal falls far short of their request. And they were doubly irritated that key Hispanic members already on the panel were not present to vote on the issue.Hispanic attorney Michael Martinez made a three-pronged request during the meeting last month of the Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Legal System. He asked that grassroots Hispanic community groups be allowed to select three people to serve on the task force, that a larger Hispanic subcommittee be formed and that the task force get the Administrative Office of the Courts to fund a study. Although 17 percent of the task force membership is Hispanic, the community groups said those members were too integrated into the "establishment" to represent the Hispanic community at large.

Third District Judge Tyrone Medley, task force co-chairman, said a poll of task force members failed to show agreement on the recommendations. But a meeting of the operations committee, which runs the task force, did suggest placing two more Hispanics on the panel. The two members would be recommended by the grassroots groups and selected by the Judicial Council, which selected all other panelists. At least one of the two new members would represent northern Utah Hispanics and at least one Hispanic member of the task force as a whole would be added to the operations committee.

The proposal rejected the idea of establishing a Hispanic subcommittee and did not commit to funding a study. Medley said that subcommittees already involve 120 people and "I believe there comes a time when size is a block to progress." If Hispanics "choose to organize themselves and do research agendas to assist the task force, I would applaud that."

BYU law professor David Dominguez offered to give up his seat on the task force to one of the community groups if it would help, but said he believes the panel does adequately represent Hispanics. Medley and other members of the operating committee rejected that idea and said if Dominguez resigned he would not be replaced.

Medley added that some members felt strongly that Hispanics are "fairly or adequately represented" on the task force already.

That raised the ire of some Hispanics, in the audience, who believe without their representation the panel will not get the in-the-trenches information it needs.

That, in turn, irritated panelists.

Martinez was also displeased that a tentative public hearing schedule has been slated to begin next month without any input from the groups he represents. Some of the early hearings will focus on gathering information from non-English-speaking Hispanics. Members of the task force who are not Spanish-speaking Hispanics were specifically asked not to attend. Yvette D. Diaz, who is organizing the hearings, said the request was made to make people who want to testify - including possibly some illegal aliens - more comfortable and forthcoming.

"Eighty percent of us who are Hispanic are not Mexican," said Martinez. "(Many of us) don't speak Spanish." He resented that the Mexican consulate was invited to help set up the hearings, while groups such as La Raza were not.

In the end, the committee lacked a quorum to vote on the Operating Committee's less-generous proposal to include Hispanics.

Again, many in the audience were angry, noting that many of the members who were absent are the Hispanics who are supposed to represent their community on the panel.

The issue will be revisited during the group's next meeting.