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-01-0041

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MC: Okay. So going back to the hearing, then. It was in the ceremonial courtroom in San Francisco.

DM: Right.

MC: In the courthouse there, which is a beautiful courthouse building. And it was filled with people so the community had come out to --

DM: Correct.

MC: -- attend the hearing.

DM: Right. It was packed with, a lot of Nisei showed up. Nisei, Sansei, every chair was filled. Probably a thousand, little over a thousand people were able to fit in there.

MC: Wow. And did you discuss with Fred Korematsu whether or not he would make a statement at the hearing?

DM: We actually asked him to do so. We asked Fred to make a statement at the hearing because he, that is very unusual for a client to address the court. But we felt that after forty years that Fred deserved a chance to say something to the court that sent him to jail, and that Fred's statement to the court would be a part of the trial that he never had, and part of the trial that Japanese Americans never had. So Fred created and crafted his own statement and gave a really beautiful short statement to the court.

MC: That's terrific. And so then Judge Patel surprised everyone by ruling from the bench. Is that correct?

DM: Yeah, this is correct. After I argued why they should make findings, Victor had argued why there shouldn't be findings, Fred addressed the court, the judge gave an oral opinion from the bench, which is highly unusual. Usually they'll say, "I take it under submission," and they'll think about it and then write an opinion. But she already knew what she was going to say because of the delay of the prosecution. So she then said, "I am overturning Fred Korematsu's conviction," and then she gave the reasons. And the reasons were powerful statement that included findings that there were no military necessity, that some of the military judgments were tinged by racism, that there was a manifest injustice, there was deliberate alteration and suppression and destruction of evidence in the United States Supreme Court, and, "Therefore, I reverse Fred Korematsu's conviction."

MC: And at that point what was the reaction in the courtroom?

DM: Well, the reaction was kind of interesting through the whole day. You go in there, we went in there and it was, there was a buzz, as you might put it. And my co-counsel, who were there, you know, the whole group was there including Eric Yamamoto from Hawaii had joined us by then, Ed Chen had joined us by then, Leigh-Ann Miyasato had joined us by then, with the original group. And they, everybody was there, and some of the people from Seattle and Portland had flown down to be part of that and to see what was gonna happen. And the... so there was a buzz in the courtroom, and I could tell when I was giving my, my argument, I could hear sniffles and crying. I could hear people, there was no rustling, but you could almost... the emotional part of it was almost palpable. When the judge gave her decision there was a moment of silence, there was, people were stunned that she would rule so fast. You know, we knew she was gonna overturn the conviction and we'd be happy but we didn't know where she was gonna go with the rest of this decision. And then you heard titters, because Japanese Americans being as they are, especially Nisei, did not erupt in loud applause and screaming and yelling and, "You go, girl," that didn't happen there. It was kind of a happy titter I guess, you could talk about it or, it was just kind of like a release of emotion but what it felt like was a giant sigh of relief, and then you could see it shading into joy. That's the sense I got because it was so dramatic at that point.

I went to Fred and as we stood up to hear the court's decision I said, "Fred, Fred, this is great." He goes, "What happened?" I said, "Fred you won. You won your case." And he looked at me like, and he was very blank-eyed, he said, "That's good, that's really good." And I knew he didn't quite understand yet. People came up to him, slapped him on the back. The teams were hugging each other inside the bar area, Fred was just kinda standing there as people hugged him, just, he was there woodenly, he wasn't responding 'cause he didn't quite get it yet. And he even told us that. He just didn't get it. And it was stunning to him after all these years, after all he went through. So then we went outside and we were thronged by Nisei. I had never seen so many Nisei cry at one place and time other than funerals maybe, but these were tears of joy and they were very demonstrative, they hugged Fred, they hugged all of us. They thanked us probably more than anything. And we... it was funny, 'cause all the team -- I, standing next to 'em, I said, "You know, we're thanking you. We would never be able to do this if it weren't for you, the sacrifices you went through, what you went through to allow us to get to this point. We feel it's an honor to get to pay you back." And it was perhaps one of the best moments you could ever have in a lifetime. In fact, my partner, Don, when they were having a tough day and he was on the -- Don Tamaki -- he was going -- actually, it was right after this, he goes, "Wouldn't you like to just bottle up that whole feeling and then when you're having a really terrible day, when nothing's going (right), you just pull open the cork and go... [makes sniffing sound] stick it back and you'd be great again?" I go, "Yeah. I think so."

MC: That sounds really incredible. It really does.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.