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-02-0023

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LB: What I'd like to, we're kind of along the vein now of really kind of looking back on the case and thinking about the way it's impacted you. I'd like to know something about what you see now as the continuing significance of these cases legally, politically, and how you see these cases have impacted you personally.

PI: Well, before I do that, I do want to say something about the Hirabayashi trial, because although I was not involved directly, and the legal team in Seattle which was headed by Rod Kawakami handled it very differently than the San Francisco team had. And maybe I should say a little bit about that because from the beginning, we, I perceived that they were handling this in much more of a sort of lawyer-like fashion. That even though they did have an emphasis on publicity for their case, basically they were not going to go into court and saying, "Your Honor, this terrible injustice has been committed. The government's whole position reeks of misconduct and fraud and so forth." That they were going to be much more, basically saying the same things, but saying it in a different, very lawyer-like fashion. And I think that was true. But we had not anticipated at the beginning that there would actually be a trial, as it turned out there was in the Hirabayashi case. The hearing in San Francisco was basically just a hearing, one day.

In Portland -- and I attended the hearing before Judge Belloni in Portland, that Don Willner and Peggy Nagae were the attorneys who spoke there, was very different, very small courtroom. People in fact were threatened with being evicted if they didn't find seats. The judge was very hostile the whole time of the hearing. And the outcome was not very favorable to us. The petition, the vacation of Min Yasui's conviction was granted because the government had asked, had agreed to that. But Victor Stone, who appeared in all three cases, succeeded in Judge Belloni's not granting the petition, dismissing the petition. So basically we had one complete victory and one partial victory. And then we discovered that the government was going to fight tooth-and-nail against Gordon Hirabayashi's petition. I suspected that this was because of political developments in Washington, that at this point, particularly in the redress campaign but also the bad publicity that the government had been getting, that they decided to make a stand. And it turned out to be great for us because what the government did in putting on a full defense of their wartime, what they did during the war, was to show that there was no basis for it. And in a sense it was a testimony, I think, my personal feeling, to some very bad lawyering by the government. They screwed everything up from the very beginning. They didn't comply, Judge Donald Voorhees was presiding at that time. They didn't comply with any of his pretrial orders. They were late with everything. They would not cooperate with us. They basically antagonized the judge. They were even rude to the judge in court, which is inexcusable for a lawyer. They made statements, Victor Stone made statements about the judge outside the courtroom to the press which were very derogatory toward him. And I mean, basically poorly handled the whole way.

And on our side -- and this hearing lasted for two weeks. It extended over two weeks. Gordon Hirabayashi testified. Our prime witness was Edward Ennis, the Justice Department lawyer during the 1940s who had objected all along to the government's presentation of false, misleading evidence. And fortuitously, Edward Ennis was still alive, very willing and eager in fact to testify on our behalf, and he did a fantastic job. Victor Stone kept insinuating that Edward Ennis, being elderly, must have lost his memory and couldn't remember all these things. And Ennis was very clear, "I remember these things distinctly, Mr. Stone." And as it turned out, even though Judge Voorhees gave us a partial victory in vacating Gordon's conviction for violating the exclusion order but upholding his conviction for violating the curfew order on the ground that it was a minor offense, that gave us an opportunity to go into the Federal Court of Appeals, where we won again a complete victory.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.