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-02-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

LB: Can you tell me some about, what you recall about the filing of the petition?

PI: Well, I do recall filing the petition vividly. I recall that we were still working out of Dale's office in Oakland, or the Asian Law Caucus, both of them in Oakland, and that we were going to file a petition in federal court in downtown San Francisco. And we had picked the day, I forget precisely what day it was, in January of 1983, and that we would, all the lawyers or as many as had the time that day would go to the federal court and file the petition. And Don Tamaki had organized a press conference at the San Francisco Press Club right after we filed the petition, to hold our first public press conference. And that I think all three of the petitioners, Gordon, Fred, and Min were going to be there at that press conference. And so we piled in the cars in Oakland and drove across the Bay Bridge to the federal courthouse.

And at that time, and I think it's still the case, at least in the larger federal courts, cases are assigned randomly by a computer to judges. Now, we knew that there were eighteen or twenty judges in that district, a very large federal district, and we had no idea which judge would get the case. And we went into the clerk's office, and we had, I think ten, at least ten copies of both the petition and the documents, which was a big stack of papers. And we had already called the clerk of the court to alert him that we were coming in. We were not allowed to and we hadn't arranged to have the press there. They weren't allowed into the court building itself, outside the lobby. But, so we all piled in. And on the drive over from Oakland -- and I don't remember if you, Lori, were in that car or not, but Dale and I were talking and Don, who should actually hand the petition to the clerk? And the clerk would then, of course, stamp the documents and ask the computer to assign the case to a judge. And we were very much hoping that we would get a good judge, quite obviously. And I think one of us, I think it was me, said, "Why don't we let Lori actually file the petition because I'm not lucky. I've never won anything." If I've ever used a slot machine or betted on anything, I've never won. And I think Dale said, "Oh, Lori's very lucky." So that was the decision, if I remember correctly, that you would file the petition, hand it to the clerk.

And so we went up there, and we were all sort of very animated on the elevator up, very excited. And we got into the clerk's office and probably six or eight of us in there. And we handed over the petitions. And the clerk or one of the assistant clerks took the documents and went back to wherever it was, some other office, to have the case assigned. And I do remember the clerk or the assistant clerk coming out -- and we're all waiting very anxiously in the outer office -- and saying to us, "Congratulations. You got Judge Patel." And the clerk knew that that would be very, that we would be very pleased with that. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel on the federal court in San Francisco was probably, if we could choose, would have been the judge we would've picked. One reason was that we knew that she had a strong civil rights background. She'd worked for the National Organization for Women doing legal work for them. She'd been appointed by President Jimmy Carter. She was known as a supporter of civil liberties. Her husband was East Indian by ancestry. She had a lot of experience with racial and ethnic minorities. And we just felt that she would be a really good judge for this case.

So that put us all in a really good mood. And we were jumping up and down, and if I remember we were all giving each other high-fives, you know. And so we then went back down, piled into our cars, and went over to the press club for the press conference. And for me, that was a very significant experience. Don Tamaki was the master of ceremonies at the press conference, introduced everybody. We had not expected as many reporters to show up, TV camera people, to show up for that press conference. We were just astounded. And of course, a lot of preparation had been made, but you never know, until something actually happens, who is actually going to show up. Is this going to be a story? Is it going to be in more than the San Francisco newspapers? And when we discovered that the TV networks were there, the national networks, this was going to generate the kind of publicity that we had really hoped for.

The press conference went very, very well. I remember speaking at the press conference about the documents and the evidence that the government had lied to the Supreme Court and withheld evidence from the Supreme Court. And I also remember in particular Min Yasui, who spoke and was his usual very animated self. And I remember him pounding on this table at the press conference, saying, saying, "I remember rotting for nine months in solitary confinement in the Multnomah County Jail in Portland, Oregon." And just, he was really agitated. By this time I think Min was back on the team, and he would talk about, call me aside whenever we spoke and he'd say, "Aren't these kids wonderful?" Speaking of the younger lawyers. He always referred to them as "the kids." And, Gordon and Fred both spoke at the press conference and I think really impressed, the whole thing went off perfectly from our point of view. We got tremendous publicity in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the national TV networks. And in a way that was half of the battle. The courtroom was the other half. But just getting the publicity to let people know what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what the significance of it was, was very, very important.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.