Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Dale Minami Interview
Narrator: Dale Minami
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Margaret Chon (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 8, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-01-0023

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MC: We're gonna move into a discussion of the actual coram nobis case that you worked on. And you mentioned being contacted by Peter Irons as a result of having participated or submitted a brief earlier.

DM: Yeah. I think it was a confluence of factors from what Peter's told me. One is, he became aware of the Bay Area Attorneys for Redress and our brief through his work and testifying the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians about judicial ethics of the lawyers during the Korematsu case and Hirabayashi, Yasui cases. He also contacted, apparently, some leaders in that community including Min Yasui. They had heard about my work at the Spokane JACL case where we did get an Asian American Studies program by suing Washington State. So Peter felt that, and to his enduring credit, he had a sensitivity to issues of race. And he said, "This coram nobis case should be led by Japanese Americans." So he went to look for a Japanese American attorney who did civil rights work. Well, there were almost none, really, who did that type of work at that time, just because there were just a dearth of Asian American attorneys. And he got my name from Min Yasui and a couple other people who knew about my work or I knew personally. And so he called, he called me up to see if I was interested.

MC: And what was your reaction?

DM: Well, at first I thought he was crazy. You know, he said, "This is Professor Peter Irons. I wanted to approach you about this interesting case I have." And when clients usually call you about that it's usually about getting radio signals through their fillings. And usually they say they have tons of evidence, and -- which Peter said he had -- and then they ask you if you can do it for free -- which Peter asked -- [laughs] -- but this was very different. He goes, "We have, I found evidence that the Supreme Court was lied to during the Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui appeals. And I'm thinking that, I've contacted them and I'm, would like to re-open their cases but I need some help." And my first reaction was, "Are those guys still alive?" 'Cause of course, we read their cases in law school some fifteen years before and when you read cases in law school they're pretty much about abstract principles but not about real people. You don't get the sense of human drama or human emotion, which I think is a failure of law school. I think you need to put that in the context of what this is about. This is about a human case. So we didn't even, I didn't even know they were alive. And I asked him, "Well, how did you find Fred Korematsu?" 'Cause I had heard about him being in the Bay Area but not wanting to participate in anything. And he goes, "Well, I just looked in the phone book and found his name there." Which Peter is actually very good at doing things, finding things out. So I said, "Sure. So, let's set up a meeting," and I then called up Don Tamaki, who is now my partner. He was head of the Asian Law Caucus. The executive director at the time. And I told him what Peter told me and his first question was, "Are those guys still alive?" [Laughs] And I said, "Yeah, they are. Peter says they are." So we then, what we did is reconvened our BAAR group, Bay Area Attorneys for Redress. And... do you want me to just keep going on?

MC: Sure, yeah.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.