Madison Black advocates are calling for action after they say a court commissioner failed to immediately end a hearing when a defendant used a racial slur against a public defender.
Court records indicate that Keith Huebner was arrested for disorderly conduct with a hate crime enhancer after he resisted arrest and used a racial slur against a healthcare provider at UW Hospital.
Public defense attorney Luis Cuevas, who is Black, was handling intake duties in a Zoom court session on June 4, when Huebner made his initial appearance. Court transcripts indicate Huebner was combative from the start — his initial words to Court Commissioner Jason Hanson were “F— you … F— you. I don’t know what the f— is going on. F— you.”
Hanson responded, “You’re welcome to stay here and participate and do it in and orderly way, or we’ll go ahead and disconnect from you and just go on and set bail in your case without you. It’s up to you.”
“Do what you want, n—-,” Huebner responded.
“I cannot proceed with racist remarks,” Cuevas then said. “So I cannot proceed in handling this matter.”
Despite threatening to end the proceeding for the f-word, Hanson attempted to keep the hearing going after the racial slur.
“Can we all act like adults and get this done?” he asked. When Cuevas protested, noting that he had heard the slur, Hanson said, “I heard that word too. I’m just saying I don’t know that it was directed at any particular person or anything. It’s just generally offensive.”
In an interview days later, Cuevas said it’s clear whom it was directed toward.
“The only person that looks like me is me on the screen,” he said. “There’s nobody else. So definitely he made the reference to me.”
Huebner continued to curse and use offensive gestures, so Hanson opted to end and reschedule the hearing, and Cuevas said he could find someone else from the Public Defender’s Office to represent Huebner.
Cuevas and advocates from Blacks for Political and Social Action (BPSA) say Hanson should have ended the hearing immediately upon the utterance of the n-word — and never should have suggested the word wasn’t directed at anyone in particular, when there was only one Black person present.
“(Hanson was) trying to minimize that he called me a ‘n—–,'” Cuevas said. “I’m just trying to do my job. I don’t need to be subjected to any racial outburst … I was humiliated by it. I was disheartened by the response that I received, trying to minimize it. Even trying to continue (the hearing) … Guy had a racist outburst and I’m not going to represent him. I don’t represent racist people.”
In a letter to Judge Valerie Bailey-Rhin, the judge overseeing the branch in which Hanson works, BPSA called for an investigation and action.
“We find this to be both appalling and totally unacceptable. While we understand that the legal standard for the issuance of verbal-only hate crime requires that racial comments be directed toward someone protected by the hate crime statute, there is no requirement in protecting attorneys from harassment,” they wrote. “The N-word is a derogatory and demeaning term used towards individuals of Afro/African American decent. The N-word was uttered while Attorney Cuevas was speaking. As you are aware, the N-Word is the most harmful and ugliest word in the English language. For Black attorneys, simply hearing it in a professional setting creates a workplace that is harmful and traumatic. The court commissioner seems to be saying that there is a certain amount of harassment this attorney should be subjected to from day to day. We are asking for you to look into this matter and take appropriate measures to protect this attorney and all Black attorneys from this type of abuse.”
In response, Bailey-Rhin wrote, “It is extremely disheartening that individuals in our society continue to use inappropriate, demeaning, offensive and derogatory language. Attorney Cuevas has appeared in my courtroom numerous times and is always a true professional. For anyone to use such language as was used in the June 4, 2021 hearing is unacceptable, and I extend my sincere apology … No one, including CC Hanson, would expect that Attorney Cuevas to represent a defendant who is making racist remarks against his own attorney. In the future, to the extent that this situation arises again, an appropriate response will be taken, such as terminating the proceeding as occurred here.”
That response was not satisfactory to BPSA.
“We remain troubled by the commissioner’s conduct during the hearing,” they wrote in response. “After a review of the transcript, we believe Commissioner Hanson should have stopped the hearing immediately when the defendant uttered the N-Word. However, it was not until Attorney Cuevas objected by saying he could not proceed after the racist remark. The Commissioner said ‘all right’ only after Attorney Cuevas objected.
The commissioner never told the defendant that the use of N-Word was offensive, never offered an apology to Attorney Cuevas for the use of the word in the courtroom, and acted as if he did not understand that use of the word was said to Attorney Cuevas … This incident draws attention to how Black people generally, and Black attorneys specifically, are treated in the courthouse.”
Huebner was released six days later on signature bond and is set to appear in court again on July 26.