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Jimmy Smits and 'Outlaw' push the hot-button topic of Arizona's immigration law

September 24, 2010 |  6:00 am

Jimmy smits NBC's drama "Outlaw," about a Supreme Court justice who leaves the bench to start his own law firm, received a mixed verdict from critics when it debuted last week. Some who knocked the series, which stars Jimmy Smits as justice Cyrus Garza, said they had difficulty accepting the gambling and womanizing ways of Smits' character.

But with the second episode that airs Friday night, "Outlaw" takes a step above standard legal genre fare to demonstrate a willingness to grapple with sensitive hot-button issues revolving around race and politics.

In the installment, a white Arizona police officer is charged with shooting a Latino he suspected of being an illegal immigrant. When the case explodes in the community, Garza, who is Latino, rushes to Arizona, but shocks his legal team when he declares he wants to represent the white officer, not the victim. With allegations of racism swirling around the officer, the decision causes a major rift between Garza and his colleagues.

The episode centers on the wide-ranging and controversial Arizona immigration law, which requires police to determine the immigration status of people they arrest for other reasons if they think those suspects are in the country illegally.

"Taking on subjects like this is one reason I jumped on doing this show," said Smits, who is also a co-executive producer. "When I looked at the possibilities, I knew we could take on cases that are topical and have some relevance. We're able to look at those cases through a personalized lens."

Future episodes will examine cases revolving around Miranda rights, Mexican cartels, extraditing criminals and segragation in charter schools.

Smits, who is a veteran of several series including "L.A. Law", "The West Wing" and "Dexter," maintained that he didn't want the series to be heavy-handed, and that there's a lightness to "Outlaw." He also said his character doesn't necessarily reflect his philosophies, particularly with Friday's episode.

"That's one of the things I grapple with," he said. "This character's views are different than Jimmy's views. But I see the light at the end of the tunnel."

He's hoping audiences will connect with the series: "I'm seeing rough cuts of coming episodes and the show is getting a lot more cohesive. We're hitting our stride more and more. I'm very proud of what we're doing."

[Updated: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Smits' character's name.]

-- Greg Braxton

Photo: Jimmy Smits. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images


Television review: "Outlaw"