Densho Digital Archive
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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-02-0017

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LB: Just before we took a break, you started talking about the first meeting that you had with the legal team and plans that started to get made. Can you tell us, give us kind of a flavor for what kinds of work the legal team and teams worked on after that first meeting?

PI: Well, after the first meeting -- and we had pretty much set up three work teams, one dealing with documents and evidence, one with legal research, procedure, and one with outside relations, fundraising. We realized quite soon that this would take a fair amount of money. We had no idea how much at the time. Everybody was working pro bono, but there were expenses. Fortunately Bob Rusky's law firm, one of the big law firms in San Francisco, volunteered a lot of support, clerical support, supplies, and things like that. But there was travel, there were travel expenses and other things that we needed money for. And also to do publicity and to coordinate with other groups to try to make this a, build a coalition and make it part of the overall redress movement. We decided very quickly this was not going to be separate. It would become part of the whole redress movement.

Now, one of the problems we had to deal with was the redress movement, of course was already in place and many organizations -- Japanese American Citizens League, NCRR, the National Committee for Redress and Reparations, and other groups were working on redress, and we weren't quite sure how to relate to them. And this was an aspect that I was not directly involved in. So, whatever I know about it is clouded by memory and also hearsay. I do recall that there were considerable difficulties in working with the Japanese American Citizens League, partly because of a feeling that there was a possibility that they might in a sense try to co-op the coram nobis team or take it over, or try to direct what we were doing. And also a feeling of some people, and I think Fred Korematsu was one of these, that the JACL was not an organization that they felt comfortable working with. And a lot of these problems, of course went back forty years. This was all handled, and I think handled extremely well by Don Tamaki, who had started out without any real experience in fundraising. He'd worked with the Asian Law Caucus and had to raise money for that, but particularly the publicity effort. Nobody had ever been involved in anything that would generate as much national publicity as we wound up getting. Don put all this together. My own work, mostly on the documents aspect of this, once, and I don't recall a lot of work being done over the summer of 1982. I think our initial plan was that we would file the petitions -- once the decision had been made to file a petition in the Korematsu case in San Francisco in the federal court -- that we would file that I think late in 1982, hopefully before the end of the year. And we realized that this wasn't going to work. There was just too much to do. Once I moved out to San Diego from Boston in, I think, August of 1982, I started commuting almost weekly to San Francisco for meetings. And we were working in sort of parallel tracks on the various work teams but starting to put things together. One thing we decided to do was that we would put together both a petition and supporting documents, that this was really, there was too much to just put in one petition and drop this on some federal judge's desk.

So all of this work was going on at a time when I was also teaching full-time at the University of California. And I felt, I very much enjoyed the meetings in San Francisco and coming up, but I also felt a little bit outside. Everybody else there would meet sometimes two or three times a week. There was a lot going on. I wasn't always privy to what was happening aside from my one part. I didn't feel shut out by any means, but I did feel that I was a little bit separated from the San Francisco team. And I also didn't know much about what was happening with the teams in Portland and Seattle aside from the fact that they had decided that we would file our petitions in order, not all on the same day, but in order, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. And we were hoping, and I think we had requested, I can't remember, that the judge in San Francisco would consolidate the three cases and hear them together. But we didn't, we wouldn't know the outcome of that until they had been filed. So at any rate, we were all working very hard on these cases. There was still this spirit of great excitement and camaraderie, lots of dinner meetings and getting together, socializing, having drinks, and trying to relax. It was a very, very exciting time for me.

And there were also come complications during this time. One that I remember in particular was that I, and probably some other people viewed Min Yasui as a loose cannon, partly because he did not agree, as both Gordon and Fred had agreed, to have everything coordinated and to let Don Tamaki be the official spokesperson for the coram nobis teams. Min would shoot off his mouth. He was irrepressible. And there was really nothing we could do about this. But one thing that happened was that somehow a story appeared in the Washington Post sometime in the fall of 1982, quoting former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg as saying that he, as saying, "Well, I understand that there are going to be petitions filed with the Supreme Court asking that the wartime internment cases be reversed." He had his facts wrong. But he said, "I think this is very dangerous and should not be done." Goldberg was also a member of the Commission on Wartime Relocation. I thought at the time that Min Yasui was behind this in some way or at least had leaked this or talked to or somehow been responsible for this story, which we at the time felt was potentially very damaging to us. And I don't know ultimately who had instigated that, but I do recall that it caused a lot consternation on the legal team that people were going outside, speaking without checking, clearing things, and the whole thing threatened to become a public relations disaster.

LB: So this was prior to the filing of the petition?

PI: Right. This was prior to the filing of the petition.

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