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Title: Lorraine Bannai Interview
Narrator: Lorraine Bannai
Interviewers: Margaret Chon (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 23 & 24, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-blorraine-01-0028

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MC: I think it's important to note that this was done without any basis for recovering fees because it's, it was an action against the United States Government basically to vacate a conviction. It wasn't an action asking for any money damages, and so there was no possibility of recovery of attorney's fees, correct?

LB: Well, actually, we did bring a motion for attorney's fees.

MC: Oh, did you?

LB: Yeah.

MC: Was it successful?

LB: No, it wasn't. But it was, certainly one of the things -- the writ of error coram nobis is, is the, you bring the writ to basically erase your conviction. So we brought this writ of error coram nobis, and what we wanted was that the record of Fred's criminal conviction be vacated or erased from the books, and as you said, not seeking any monetary relief, not seeking any monetary damages or attorney's fees, at least initially. And I think that that was actually a really important thing, that money was not sought, that it was really that the case was brought for vindication, to vindicate Fred's name, to vindicate the community's name. And then that was all that was at stake. And I think it made it a much more appealing issue, as it were, to the general public, that this was a question of principle and not a question of money.

One thing about the case that I think that many have commented on before is that it was, it was felt really necessary to challenge those World War II Supreme Court decisions because any question about getting Japanese American redress would normally be answered by, well, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was okay, so therefore, the internment was all right. So it seemed very important to bring some type of proceeding to attack the validity of the U.S. Supreme Court cases so that that argument could not be used. And so to the extent that the coram nobis cases were purely brought to undermine the factual basis for those opinions, to basically, as you might say, knock out the legs from under the opinion, if we could do that, we would have won a great victory for the community and for the petitioners, but also perhaps in some small way pave the way for redress before Congress.

MC: So it was very related to other, other aspects of the redress movement then?

LB: Uh-huh. One of the really wonderful things that came out of the case and the biggest significance of the case for me, is that it was really not just one legal case. It wasn't just a bunch of lawyers and one client bringing a lawsuit to benefit that one client, but it really was one part of a much larger political effort. It was our case being brought at the same time redress was being sought before Congress, at the same time NCJAR was bringing its class action, at the same time there was media coming out, media covering the story, plays being written, Rick Shiomi's play, Steve Okazaki's film. The issue of redress and the experience of Japanese Americans was a whole movement brought by and pushed by numerous different segments within the community itself. And not only that, but also it was a powerful example of the value of coalition work. The Jewish American organizations got behind redress. Other civil rights organizations got involved in it. So numerous different portions of the community and communities outside of the Japanese American community (got) behind this issue on the basis of principle. And to me, that was really powerful, and again, much more powerful than had it just been a single client with a single group of lawyers seeking just a single small remedy.

MC: You've mentioned that this case is all about community or was all about community. And just to link this quickly to some of the observations in the first part of the interview, your father was involved in some way in some official capacity with the redress movement, was he not?

LB: When they started the Commission, he was, I think, appointed the first executive director of the Commission. So actually, he was asked by President Reagan to take an administrative position with the Commission. And in that capacity, he opened the office, and he hired the initial staff, and basically got the ball rolling, and started to put together the initial hearings before he stepped down from that position. So it was a pretty interesting situation sometimes because for example, I was involved in communicating with the Commission when my father was the director of the Commission at the same time. So kind of a family affair.

MC: And the Commission report, Personal Justice Denied, was the final report, was a very, very powerful, very well-researched, very factually laden government document. Were you able to use any of that in your case?

LB: Actually, quite, quite a bit and not. We didn't actually use the report itself. In fact, the report was in the process of being actually prepared while the case was going on. The case, the Korematsu case was filed in January of 1983. And I think what happened is Victor Stone, who was the attorney for the U.S. Government, kept coming into court saying, "We can't answer. We more time. We need more time. We can't answer because the Commission is preparing this report, and once the report's prepared, then we'll have much more information to be able to proceed." And he'd get a continuance, and the judge would say, "Well, you have to answer by this date." And he'd come back in and say, "This report's not done yet. It's not done yet. Once we get the report, we'll be able to proceed."

And so then finally, the report came out, I think, probably sometime in July or August or something. And he came into court, and he started talking about the Commission's report. And he held it up before the judge, and the judge said, "It's called Personal Justice Denied? That doesn't bode really well for the government's position in this case." So anyway, yes, it was being prepared at the same time. But we didn't actually use the report itself. Certainly much of the information upon which our case was based was information that the Commission relied on in coming out with its report. And so they are congruent in many, many ways, but the report itself was relied on some, not totally.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.