Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
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-01-0024

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DM: So we set up a meeting with Peter. He flew out from Amherst where he was working at the time as a professor. And just by coincidence, absolute coincidence, Gary Iwamoto from Seattle happened to be down staying at my place. We were old friends since the first time we met in 1974. Gary was a lawyer. Gary helped us on the Spokane JACL case, made a, played a pivotal role really, he was very strong on that case. And Gary was there and I kept telling him, "We're gonna have this meeting, why don't you show up?" So Gary and I go to the airport to meet Peter Irons and we're speculating on what he might look like, we're just kinda joking around, we think he's... of course he was nothing like we expected. We pick him up and it was a hot day, and he goes, "How about getting a beer?" We go -- and Gary loved to drink, I don't know if he still does, but, and I said, "Sure." So we got a beer and we started talking about the evidence. We then went over to my house, it was an apartment, but we had one part of it. And the BAAR attorneys were there, Bay Area Attorneys for Redress attorneys were there. And I think we added Don Tamaki to that group, couple other people came, too. And we heard what Peter had to say.

MC: And what was his evidence?

DM: Well, he brought us a draft of a petition called coram nobis. 'Course, we didn't know what that was. Peter had to explain it and we all had to look it up in Black's Law Dictionary but, by coincidence, Peter had filed his own coram nobis case. Peter was also a lawyer, not just a political science professor. But he had filed a case because of his selective service violation conviction. And so he had filed his own case and was familiar with the concept. And so he brought the petition and we looked at the first page of the evidence, which was the exact first page of the documents that he found, saying that, "What we are doing approximates the suppression of evidence. It would be unfair to this minority group if these lies go unchecked." Written by a government lawyer, to a government lawyer who was arguing the case in the Supreme Court.

MC: In the 1940s?

DM: In the 1940s, correct.

MC: And he had uncovered that memo during the course of his research?

DM: Correct. And so he presented with some other documents and we knew, he gave us a kind of an idea, 'cause he had sent us some of that stuff before but we went over a lot of it again. And it was stunning. To us it was the proverbial "smoking gun." You don't get those very often. And we saw this as an incredible opportunity to do something good.

MC: And the reason why no one had ever of coram nobis was because it really is a very obscure device?

DM: Absolutely. It was, it's so obscure that when we filed our case in the district court for Fred first, which we did first, the clerk had to call out the chief clerk because they didn't know how to file it. They had, the chief clerk said, "I haven't seen one of these in thirty years."

MC: So they didn't know whether it was a civil or criminal case?

DM: Well, this was a very interesting point because that became an important part of our strategy. We wanted it filed as a civil case because it's a hybrid. In other words, it's coram nobis "to correct an error," a fundamental error that occurred in a criminal proceeding but it almost uses, it could use civil procedures. So, it's almost a hybrid of civil/criminal. If (it's a) criminal (proceeding), though, we get all the discovery rights. We get the right to depose witnesses, we get the right to ask questions. But if it's filed as a criminal case your rights to that kind of discovery we call it, gathering of information, is really strictly limited. So when the clerk filed, well, Lori filed it -- that's another story -- but we filed, we had somebody with good luck file it. And Lori filed the case and it, the clerk goes, "Is this a criminal or civil case?" And I immediately said, "It's a civil case." And he filed it as a civil case. So we were able to get the discovery rights.

MC: Uh-huh. The broad civil discovery provisions.

DM: Correct.

MC: And, the, what you were attacking was Fred Korematsu's conviction, for failing to obey the orders --

DM: Right.

MC: -- and violating the congressional act which made that a criminal violation.

DM: Right. It was a little bit more than that. I mean, we were attacking Fred's original conviction based on the un-, the fundamental unfairness of the prosecution having suppressed and altered and destroyed evidence. We threw in a second count there seeing how it could fly, to have what was done declared unconstitutional but we knew that we couldn't really, we couldn't do that under the legal procedures in the law that existed at the time.

MC: Sure.

DM: We just wanted to get, we wanted to throw it in there to get some publicity.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.