Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
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-01-0030

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MC: This is a continuation of the interview of Lori K. Bannai on March 23, 2000, by Margaret Chon and Alice Ito. Lori, we just talked a little bit about what it was like to litigate against a powerful adversary like the United States Government and the kind of organizational efforts that were needed to do that. Let's go back a little bit and, and talk a little bit about the formation of the original legal team for the Korematsu litigation.

LB: As I said, Dale and I from our law firm were involved in the case. We had previously been involved in BAAR with Dennis Hayashi of the Asian Law Caucus, (who was) part of the original team. We had worked with some law students. Margie Barrows was a law student at the time. Joyce Matsumori was involved at the Caucus at the time. So we had a core group of lawyers. Some other lawyers from small practices in San Francisco's Japantown. As the effort grew, we brought in some more people, friends, people we had worked with before. (Don Tamaki, with the Asian Law Caucus joined the team.) Karen Kai and Robert Rusky had gone to the University of San Francisco with me, and they joined the team. Robert Rusky was the person I mentioned who had the medium-sized firm and all of the secretarial help that we needed. Leigh-Ann Miyasato was an attorney who came and got involved in the case. Eric Yamamoto took a leave from his firm in Honolulu, Hawaii, to come and work on the case. So the team kind of gradually grew to a core group of, of probably a dozen lawyers or so. Ed Chen, who was then at a firm, Coblentz and Caen, (and then) with the ACLU, joined the team.

So the Korematsu team kind of developed to about a dozen lawyers and a number of our law clerks and law students who came in and helped with the legal research, helped with summarizing the documents, and helping with the media work that was done on the case. In addition, we knew that we had to have some lawyers involved in the case from Portland and from Seattle. Gordon Hirabayashi had been originally convicted in Seattle, and Min Yasui had been originally convicted in Portland, so we felt we needed to have some lawyers there to handle those parts of the case. When we originally started the case, it was our intention and hope that the cases would be consolidated into one proceeding in San Francisco, so that the quote "Korematsu team" or the San Francisco team would do the major portion of the litigation. But knowing that there had to be local counsel up here, we contacted my sister, Kathryn Bannai, who was practicing in Seattle at the time. She got together a legal team up here of people like Rod Kawakami and Roger Shimizu and Mike Leong and Sharon Sakamoto and others. We contacted Peggy Nagae in Portland, Oregon, and she was then, I think, with the University of Oregon. And she put together a legal team there to handle anything that might happen, again, in these other jurisdictions. So there were simultaneously three legal teams put together of lawyers, predominantly Asian American lawyers, predominantly Sansei lawyers, in these three jurisdictions.

Everybody seemed to take different roles as the case started to develop. Dale took on the role of lead counsel (for) the San Francisco team. I took on the role primarily of handling the documents, document control, scanning, summarizing the documents, and organizing the documents. Dennis Hayashi and Bob Rusky took primary responsibility for coordinating the legal research. Peter certainly was key in drafting the original petition, and both of us worked with the documents together. Karen Kai and I had responsibility for coordinating the work between the three legal teams, and Don Tamaki was in charge of all of the fundraising activities and the community education activities. So each of us had different kind of specialties within the legal team, but at the same time everyone pretty much did everything. Everyone was involved in reviewing documents, everyone was involved in going around and giving speeches and fundraising, everyone was involved in legal research. So despite the fact that we had different kind of jurisdictions, it was a very much of a collective effort on the team.

MC: Sounds like a very complex organizational effort there.

LB: Certainly I mentioned before that one of the great things about working on this case was the fact that it was part of a larger movement. But certainly co-equal to that as far as what was great about working on this case was the collective effort of this particular team. I had never had the experience of working with a group of people that had such exceptional chemistry before, and I haven't had that experience since. It was a truly remarkable group of lawyers, really bright lawyers, really energetic lawyers, really committed lawyers, politically committed lawyers. And we meshed really well as far as work style. There was surprisingly very little ego involved. No grandstanding. Everyone, I think, was really very much there for the cause, for trying to win the case, and for being there to support each other and support the team and support our client towards winning the case. Aside from how exciting the issue was, the ability to work with this particular group was just amazing.

MC: I know Dennis Hayashi has described you, Lori Bannai, as being the brain of the Korematsu team, and I'm wondering what sort of dynamics arose within the team. You've described them in general, but anything in particular that comes to mind?

LB: I don't think at all that I was the brains behind the team. Everyone, every single individual in the group was the brains behind the team. Just to give you a picture, we worked very long hours together. We had our regular day jobs where we handled fender-benders and divorces and represented tenants and things like that, and many evenings, many weekends, worked late into the night doing legal research, having meetings constantly, strategized our legal effort, planned fundraising efforts, talked to media, went to speak at Rotary clubs and JACL meetings, and colleges, university campuses. There were so many things to do, and my sense about it today is that whenever something needed to get done, whether the speech at Harvard Law School or the truly mundane photocopy job, every single member of the team was there to get the job done. And I feel, as I say, that today that that just sounds so idealistic and so rosy, but that is the way I feel about it. It was really a group of people who knew that there were all of these jobs to get done, and all of those jobs were crucial to the effort. And it didn't matter how much time it took, and it didn't matter that we weren't getting paid for, I think, anybody on the team.

MC: It sounds as if the team was bound together by a sense of principle, idealism, sense of community, perhaps a sense of being up against a very powerful adversary and having to stick together and really help each other out.

LB: I think that's really true. I mean, as I said, most of us were from families who had been interned. This case was a very personal case to all of us certainly on one level, but it was also a very significant political case. It represented not just Fred Korematsu's internment and the internment of our families, but it also represented to us what law was all about, that law should be used and could be used as a vehicle to effectuate social change, that the law could right something that was wrong. Now, of course, all of us, I think, certainly have a healthy degree of cynicism about the law. The law justifies, perpetuates grave injustice every single day, and certainly most of us spent our law school career and our early career in the practice of law, fighting the law, fighting government. But I think at the same time, there was a sense that the law could be used as a tool to right the very wrongs that the law had wrought. So I think we were bound by an idealism, by perhaps also skepticism, and by a sense that what we were doing was more important than any of us individually. And to that extent, as I said, I think people remarkably put egos aside, put concerns of money aside, and worked on this case together really in a dynamic, amazing way.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.