Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

LB: Can you tell me about that initial meeting?

PI: Well, my memories of it are... Dale met me at the airport. I think Dennis Hayashi was with him and maybe Don Tamaki, but at any rate, Dale and Dennis. And I got off the plane. They didn't know who I was, what I looked like. Back in those days I had a beard, sort of very gray, almost white beard, and I must have looked like Methuselah. And I was also pretty formally dressed. I don't know if I had on my three-piece lawyer suit. But at any rate, it took a while to, I recognized them before they recognized me. And we started right away talking about, we were on our way to the meeting, talking about what we were going to do. And the meeting was in Oakland at, I think at Dale's office in Oakland, or the, the Asian Law Caucus office, which was also in Oakland. I forget which of those places we had our first meeting. But I do remember that meeting just being sort of an introduction of me to probably six or eight people, maybe ten. Lawyers, law students who wanted to work on this at least to see what we were, what we could do -- and a brainstorming session.

And it went on, it was a pretty long meeting, all day, into the evening. And at the conclusion of that meeting, I think we had pretty much agreed, first of all, that we would go ahead, that this would take three separate cases, three separate legal teams. One of the original things we discussed was, should we combine them all in one and file it in one court? And it could have been the federal court in San Francisco, it could have been the U.S. Court of Appeals, which was the first court that handled all three cases together in the 1940s, or the Supreme Court. That was a decision we didn't make right away. But we decided that we needed at least to set up legal teams or involve lawyers in Portland and Seattle. And then I had, I could only spend one or two days in San Francisco, and I had to go back to Boston because I was teaching at the time. So that initial meeting, I'm pretty sure that there were some decisions made about delegating various responsibilities. One of them, either at that meeting or the next meeting we had, was that Don Tamaki would pretty much handle fundraising and publicity, that Lori Bannai and I would handle the evidence and the documents, and that legal research would be handled, I'm pretty sure the people on that team were Dennis Hayashi and, I can't remember who else was going to work with him.

LB: Bob Rusky.

PI: And Bob Rusky, of course. How could I forget? And Karen Kai, his wife.

AI: Excuse me. Just to clarify, I wanted to make sure and ask Lori. You were at this first meeting, is that right?

LB: Uh-huh.

AI: And so was this the first time that the two of you met?

LB: Right.

PI: Right.

AI: Thank you.

PI: And I do remember at some point either, maybe that meeting was in Dale's living room in his apartment in Oakland, because I do remember that we took breaks and we would play Pac Man, which was the very first video game ever. Dale had a Pac Man thing, and I played Pac Man with you, as a matter of fact. And Dale had a little basketball net set up in his -- he had a very spacious living room in his apartment -- with Nerf balls, and shoot hoops with Nerf balls. I do remember that we had those little breaks because this was a long and pretty intense meeting. Everybody was really working hard to get as much done, as many decisions made, plans set before I had to go back to Boston.

LB: So what were your impressions of this group of lawyers you had clearly never met before which you're describing as certainly a mix of, certainly very serious business and some fun, too.

PI: Well, one thing I decided very quickly was that these lawyers were really good lawyers. They knew what they were doing and they had tremendous commitment, personal commitment, too, because for almost all of them, their parents or grandparents had been in the internment camps. This for them was a personal crusade in a way, but also as lawyers. And I also realized that very quickly, that I did not want to be the knight on the white horse coming in to take over or direct or lead the coram nobis effort. I knew what my skills were, research skills basically, and I knew the coram nobis procedure. That was about it. But I didn't know anything about actual litigation aside from handling my own cases, freedom of information cases, my draft case. I had no courtroom experience and certainly not anything this complex that would involve several different courts possibly. And so we decided that there would be a director or coordinator or lead counsel. If we did these in three separate cities, there would be a different lead counsel in each city. If we did them all in San Francisco, combined them, there would be one lead counsel. And the decision was made very quickly, and I don't think it was even voted on or discussed very much, that Dale Minami would be the lead counsel. He had the most experience. He was older by a very small margin than most of the other lawyers, and had his own firm and had experience in federal litigation.

LB: Prior, to back up before we move further into the litigation, prior to the meeting as you were coming in on the airplane, did you have any concerns about, in essence, handing over what you saw was a very significant case to a group of people who you didn't know at all?

PI: Well, I did have some concerns. One of them was, quite frankly, that I didn't want to hand the case over to a group of lawyers that I didn't know, and then be told, "Well, we'll let you know what happens." I really wanted to be involved. And I wanted to be as actively involved as anybody else. And there was some of my own ego involved in this. After all, I was the one who had found this evidence. I was the one who, and of course, there was other evidence that became very important in the case that was not my discovery, mostly from Aiko Yoshinaga and Jack Herzig, working with the commission. But that this was going to be a really joint effort. Otherwise, it wasn't going to work. That I would have to be, feel comfortable working with these people that I'd never known before, and they would have to feel comfortable with me. But it didn't take very long at all in that first meeting to realize that this would work out. There were a lot of decisions that couldn't be made at that first meeting, but the one thing that impressed me was how well-organized everybody was. I had never been, I had always worked by myself and still do on most of my projects. I am not well-organized, and these lawyers were really well-organized, and that impressed me tremendously. There were charts made up, you know these charts with boxes, who was going to do this, who was going to do that, time charts, when we would try to get this completed and move on to the next step. Lots of contingency plans. And so I felt very quickly that this was really going to, whatever the outcome was going to be, it was really going to be done very well by really well-trained people.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.