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-01-0025

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MC: And so, when you saw the evidence that Peter Irons had put together or discovered, I guess, from the government's own files, the government's own archives, how, what was your reaction, how did you feel about that?

DM: Well, like I said, I was stunned. I thought, 'This is incredible." And I think everybody felt the same way. I mean, we looked at each other like, "This may be possible. We might be able to pull this off because we have this evidence." We've gotta figure out the myriad of legal obstacles. We're fighting a forty-year conviction. What do you do about forty-year-old evidence? What do you do about evidence that no longer exists? What do you do about people who do no longer exist, whose testimony only appears in writing? We have to invoke what we've never... we learned about in law school but have never done in practice, the ancient documents exception to the hearsay rule. We had to figure out whether we could challenge this case in the Ninth Circuit in the Supreme Court as opposed to the lower court. We had to figure out how to coordinate between Min Yasui in Oregon and Gordon Hirabayashi. We had to even find lawyers for those people in those areas just in case. I mean, there were so many difficult legal issues to challenging a forty-year-old conviction of the magnitude that we had in Korematsu, Hirabayashi, and Yasui. It was, it was pretty daunting. But for some reason, I think we felt we had a little sense of destiny. We had, we're on a mission. We thought we could overcome all of that.

MC: So you knew it would be a lot of work and it would be very complex, but on the other hand you had a "smoking gun" and a sense that justice was on your side.

DM: Right. And I think the overriding... not the overriding, one of the major considerations we had at that time, is having found this evidence in the midst of a very heated redress battle, we knew we could do one thing, win or lose the case, we were gonna be able to educate the American public.

TI: Was there ever --

MC: So --

TI: I'm sorry. Was there ever a fear, though, that if you failed, if you lost the case, that that would negatively impact the overall redress movement?

DM: You know, we did consider that. I mean, it's kinda like, you have to weigh all the considerations. We knew the evidence better than anybody. So at one point in our case, I think our, we were doing this all in secret because we wanted to get an edge on the government before we threw it at 'em by filing the complaint. Our plans were leaked to a former justice of the Supreme Court, Arthur Goldberg, and Arthur Goldberg opined in the Pacific Citizen -- I think this was set up to discourage us from doing this -- that it would be foolhardy to pursue these claims because they don't have a high chance of success and probably set back the redress movement. We, of course, considered that to some degree. But we really didn't give it very much serious consideration. We knew what the evidence was. We knew the overall educational value was gonna be enormous. And I think at one point you kinda have to make that choice. Is this case strong enough to win? And we created various escape routes. And the escape routes were primarily in the educational area. Because the opportunity we had to do with the evidence we had, we had a political and educational set of principles even if we lost the case, and that would be to do more education about the failure of our court system. And so we, we kind of, we had a, we had an exit strategy in that sense, too, in case we did lose. But, truthfully, I don't think people gave it more than a minute's thought in that group because I think we felt so strongly about what we had.

MC: Those documents as "smoking guns" are very, very powerful. And I guess what you were trying to do really was different from a typical type of case involving reparations in that you weren't asking for damages. You were really just asking for the government to set aside a conviction, for the courts to set aside a conviction based on essentially prosecutorial misconduct.

DM: Correct.

MC: So in that sense, it was really about legal ethics as opposed to a remedy in money damages.

DM: Yeah, we thought, we actually considered the idea of money damages. I mean, we thought this through with meetings after meetings after meetings. I remember Min telling Peggy, or telling one of us he had, was worried about these young lawyers taking on this case, his case. So he dispatched his friend, Frank Chuman, who was a well-regarded lawyer, historian, wrote books about Japanese Americans, from Los Angeles, to join us at our meeting that we had in my apartment, the second set of meetings. So Frank was his emissary and was supposed to report on whether we were good enough to do this. Which was totally understandable from, from a client's point of view.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.