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-01-0026

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MC: Well, can you describe the group of lawyers who got involved?

DM: Yeah. We had different groups and different personalities. Lori Bannai, Lorraine Bannai was my partner at the time at the law firm that I was working at. We were at a private law firm. She also did the class certification motion on our Spokane JACL case. So there's all these connections. Within our group -- I'll describe the Korematsu group first -- Don Tamaki was the executive director of the Asian Law Caucus, the group that we had started earlier on to do low inc-, work for low income people in the Asian Pacific American community. Dennis Hayashi was the lawyer at the Asian Law Caucus. Karen Kai and Bob Rusky were people who were in BAAR with us, with helping to craft the brief in front of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. They were graduates from USF. They were married. They had always wanted to get involved but I think BAAR was the first real organized legal work they did in a political setting and they were terrific resources and researchers. Later on we had people like Eric Yamamoto from Hawaii. He came a bit later and then Ed Chen, who is now a federal magistrate, came on. Leigh-Ann Miyasato from Hawaii also helped us.

MC: And all of you were, with perhaps with the exception of you, all of the lawyers involved were fairly new graduates from law school.

DM: That's correct. Yeah, I was the old guy, I think. Because this was 1981 so I had been out of school for ten years. But everyone else was fairly new, within... no one had been out of school beyond that more than probably six years. We also had as part of our team... do you want me to talk about Seattle and Portland?

MC: Sure, yeah.

DM: Okay. When Peter called, we realized that we had to get lawyers in other venues possibly. And so the only lawyer I knew in Portland, excuse me, in Oregon, was a Legal Aid lawyer, former Legal Aid lawyer, Peggy Nagae. So I called her up and asked her if she wouldn't mind working on this. She could, she would represent Min Yasui.

MC: Because his conviction had been in Portland?

DM: His conviction was in Portland.

MC: And you had to challenge it in that same court?

DM: Correct. Well, we weren't sure at that time.

MC: Right.

DM: We were debating where we had to challenge these things. Could we go to the Ninth Circuit? Could we go straight to the Supreme Court? We were still contemplating bef-, after we selected the lawyers. We thought we might have to have local counsel anyways because we wanted to do local education anyway. So we wanted to have at least a lawyer in the venue where the conviction occurred. So Peggy readily agreed. And she was at, I wonder if she was, she was assistant dean, I think at the law school then. And then I called up my former law clerk, Kathryn Bannai from Gardena where I grew up and Rod Kawakami who also worked on the Spokane JACL case. In fact, Kathryn Bannai was the genesis of that whole case. She's the one who told Denny Yasuhara that he had to call me up because she was working in Spokane as a Legal Aid fellow and so there's all these connections and Rod I, of course, knew from the case, and Gary Iwamoto from the Spokane JACL case. And they agreed to represent Gordon Hirabayashi in case we had to challenge his conviction in Seattle. So that was essentially, I know I'm forgetting something, but that's, oh, Donna Komure deserves recognition, too. I mean she's, she was out of Sacramento and we got her on board 'cause she volunteered but we needed a, somebody to coordinate the amicus curiae briefs. We thought that if we're gonna make a splash on this we're gonna get, this isn't gonna be a Japanese American issue. We're gonna bring on every other group we can to support our legal claims and to make this politically formidable as far as the legal position. And that would help us both educationally, it would help us politically and it would also help us legally. So she was very significant and I don't think she gets the credit she, she deserves.

MC: So you had a fairly extensive legal team, then. But, in terms of numbers of years out of law school, not as much experience as perhaps Min Yasui would have felt comfortable with.

DM: That's probably true. Peter Irons, of course, was a member of the team. But what happened, too, about Frank Chuman was interesting. Frank Chuman I think is my mother's second cousin. But I didn't really know that at the time. And we all knew who Frank Chuman was, former president of the Ja-, JACL, author of Japanese American history books. But we knew that he was not a practicing civil rights lawyer. But Frank returned home to L.A., called up Min, and from Min's account said that Frank said, "You don't have to worry about anything. They really know what they're doing." So Frank, to our everlasting gratitude, gave us a ringing endorsement.

MC: That's terrific.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.