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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Today is February 8th. We're in Seattle. This is a Densho interview and doing the interviewing is Tom Ikeda, that's me, and Margaret Chon from the Seattle University, and on camera is Dana Hoshide. But Dale, the way we start this is, I'm just gonna have you tell us your full name, and if there are any reasons why they named you the way they did, and talk a little bit about where and when you were born.

DM: My name is Dale Minami. I was born in Los Angeles, in East Los Angeles at the Japanese hospital there -- 'cause that's where you had to be born when you were born Japanese in Los Angeles -- October 13, 1946. I don't really know why they named me Dale. They named my older brother Roland and my middle brother Neil and myself Dale, which were kind of unusual names. I think they wanted a girl. And they figured they could have a unisexual name or bi-gender name and that would perhaps help the process, but no, I became a third son, a family of three, three boys and parents.

TI: What was the age difference between you and your brothers?

DM: My older brother was six years older. My middle brother is a year and a half older than I am. Older brother was born in 1941 and was just a young child when he had to go to the camps, and so I think the opportunities to have additional children in the camps were not so good. So my second brother wasn't born until they had left the camps and moved to Milwaukee.

TI: Now, how about your grandparents? Do you know from what part of Japan they came from?

DM: Yeah. On my mother's side they came from Kagoshima and from my father's side they came from Kumamoto.

TI: And then how about your parents? Where were they born?

DM: My mother was born in Santa Maria and my father was born in Riverside.

TI: Can you, can you just tell me a little bit about your mother? What was she like?

DM: My mother was, always told me that Kagoshima people were a little bit different, you know? 'Cause they had developed their own culture and they were resistant to attempts to get taken over by the rest of Japan.

TI: That's funny, because my mom's family is from Kagoshima, too --

DM: Is that right?

TI: -- and she says the exact same thing. [Laughs]

DM: She does? Good. Well, I'm glad someone else did, 'cause I thought it was just her telling me this story. But I know that my, the, their... my grandmother, for example, my obaachan was really tough. She didn't die 'til she was -- the day after she turned a hundred. But even before that she was very tough personality. And my mom is very, very, very sweet but she has this really sense of chanto, you gotta do things right, which she instilled in us. And she has terrific compassion and heart, but she's, she's still pretty tough. She's eighty-nine years old. Demands to live by herself, independently in the house that they had built some years ago.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

DM: My father was an interesting man. I think he was very talented in a lot of ways. He used to be a terrific athlete. That's why he opened a sporting goods... he was undefeated as a tennis player in high school, on varsity, went on to play junior college tennis. He was an all-league basketball player at Gardena High School, went on to play junior college basketball. He was a one or two handicap golfer. He had just tons of trophies around our house. And he was a terrific tennis player. So he naturally -- maybe not naturally -- but opened a sporting goods store. I think he wanted, he was a man of -- very talented. He was very verbal. But I think the camps changed him dramatically. I think he lost an opportunity to be something much larger than he thought he could be. So he had this enduring bitterness that he pretty much suppressed, but it would come out occasionally.

TI: How old was he when he went to the camps? When he --

DM: He was born in 1911 so he was thirty-one. He was pretty much into his career. He did a lot of work in Little Tokyo so he helped organize the Nisei, first Nisei Week festivals. And he was involved in the produce industry. I think his goal was really to go to law school. And he had even mentioned that but he didn't have the resources, and in those days very few Nikkei ever went to law school.

TI: So he was really involved in the community, also, by the formation of Nisei Week, things like that?

DM: Very much so. I mean, I think that's partly where we get some of our ethos and our values. Both parents were very involved in the community. My father helped start the first JACL chapter in Gardena, or he was the founder. Very active in JACL early on, worked in many community organizations, and my mother as well.

TI: Have you ever talked to them, the, or did they talk about the importance of getting involved in these community things, why he did it?

DM: Actually, no. He never really talked. He did most things by example. Like, for example, he never really pushed us into sports. He never pushed me specifically to be a lawyer or my older brother to be a doctor. But as we know, this is that subtle psychological manipulation that Nisei are masters at. And for some reason we all knew we had to go to college. We all knew we should do this or do that. But I don't remember anything specific about him telling us to do things other than behave in a certain way in public and things like that.

MC: Didn't he have his business before the war?

DM: He did. He was a gardener. He was in produce, then he became, well, first he was in produce when he was in Little Tokyo. This was before the war. And then he opened a small sporting goods store at the basement of a men's clothing shop called Joseph's. That's, I think it's still there on First Street, right in San Pedro and First Street. At the same time he was doing some gardening because he couldn't make enough money in the sporting goods store.

MC: Did the sporting goods store cater mostly to the Japanese American community, or was it a broader clientele?

DM: It was kind of interesting. Before the war it was Japanese American and a lot of Japanese nationals because they wanted to learn how to golf. That was a status sport in Japan. So he had commerce and communications with many Japanese. After the war it was... he became, he moved to a sporting goods store, or opened a sporting good -- probably 1954 into Gardena. And to survive in Gardena you couldn't just cater to Japanese. So he became a part of the whole larger community, the Caucasian American community. And so his -- we sold gym shorts to everybody.

TI: Well, in fact, I think Lori says your dad's store had the monopoly on gym shorts.

DM: Yeah, we did. [Laughs] For the longest time. And, yeah, it was before Big 5 and some of the discount sporting goods came in. So, I mean, in that sense he was able to survive. Plus, he developed really good relations with the coaches at Gardena High School. So he sold all their uniforms, did all their trophies, and I think that was his, his primary source of stable income, was commerce with the Gardena High School. And the leagues, he helped start all these different leagues, baseball leagues, basketball leagues, football leagues. And so at the same time that he was starting these leagues he was selling sports equipment to them.

TI: It sounds like he was very active after the war. You mentioned earlier how you thought the war had changed him. Could you go into that a little bit more? What type of changes would that be?

DM: I think he was -- before the war; for example, give you a good example, he really tried to fight the whole exclusion in his own way. He testified in the Tolan Committee. His testimony, I still have the testimony, was basically economic one, is that to deprive California and this nation of the resources that Japanese Americans could bring to a war effort might, mainly produce, which is what he was in, would be foolhardy because people need food to wage a war. He also helped fund a radio commentator secretly to -- this guy was... God, I forgot his name, wonderful man, they honored him later on in life -- but he, he helped finance him to do these radio commentaries expressing opinions against the war. He was a Caucasian guy. Eventually, of course, the guy was blacklisted and could never get a job again. He was much more active, I would say politically. And after the war he avoided everything controversial, never wanted to get involved in controversy, whether it be political, and he realized that anything might be bad for his business. It could result in something detrimental to either his business or his family. So he kept a lower profile politically.

TI: Well, for him to be so vocal before the war, by testifying in the Tolan community, committees and doing things like that, how did the community react to that? Was that controversial? Because as a JACL founder down there, at least in Seattle, the JACL was taking the stance of, "Go along with what the government was doing."

DM: I think, he didn't talk about it much, but his position was that we didn't have a choice. We had to go along with the government. I mean, we should resist as much as we can, legally, or make our arguments, but once the order was made I think he felt that he didn't have a lot of choice. And so he never advocated open resistance. He never did anything like the, well, he didn't face the situation of the Heart Mountain resisters or Fred Korematsu or Gordon Hirabayashi or Min Yasui. So after the program started he went along with that program.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Okay. Talk about your childhood, growing up in Gardena. What was that like?

DM: Gardena was a really unusual place at that time in one sense. It was fairly multicultural. We had a lot of Mexican Americans there, some African Americans, we had occasional Koreans and Filipinos and Chinese, but I would say about ten to fifteen percent of that community was Japanese American and that made it really unusual. So the culture of that community in Gardena was very much Japanese-oriented in a way. In fact, I didn't realize how much it was until I went back to one of my reunions many years later. And one of my friends who I hadn't seen for years, a Mexican American guy, said, "Oh, I gotta go to the benjo," the toilet. And I, using the Japanese word for it, it just struck me, here's a Mexican American guy talking Japanese, crude Japanese to me.

So it was actually fairly idyllic in some ways, because it was, you know, in those days, living in a small community, this was in the early '50s, you didn't have the types of problems you have today in the sense of -- children could go walk the streets, we'd walk to school, we'd take our bikes everywhere. It was kind of like a oblivious time, that whole '50s, so we kind of fit into that Ozzie & Harriet type of, type of family concept and life was good. There was nothing really controversial going on except for the chance the chance that you could be nuked in a second because of the, of the nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States. But it was actually fairly... it was a peaceful existence, you don't, you didn't encounter really strong racism. People would make comments now and then, but they were not, it wasn't as virulent as it is today.

TI: And those comments were from within the Gardena community, or was that from outside?

DM: Within. I mean, occasionally, white kids would say, you know, make fun of you, would call you a "Jap," but that was just very rare, though. And occasionally you'd get that while you were playing basketball with other schools or sports with other schools within your league in junior high and high school. But there wasn't as much racial tension, for one thing, in that community. And, in our high school, especially, it was fairly mixed. It wasn't ideal proportions but we had bits and pieces of everything and some larger percentages of Asian Americans, predominantly Japanese Americans; larger percentage of Mexican Americans. But we didn't have that type of overt racial tension that started to occur in Gardena later on, and everywhere else later on, for that matter.

TI: How about school? What kind of student were you, growing up?

DM: Uh... mixed. And I can only say this, I -- as far as academically, I actually got almost straight "A's" throughout my school years but I would get very bad grades in cooperation and work habits. And I think the problem was -- and I never quite figured it out -- I think I, one is that I talked too much, and I was causing trouble for teachers because I was, I was subtly unruly. We would do little things like, I remember once we had a substitute teacher, and we had, I had organized this little -- I don't know why, this is stupid -- but we had, we'd sit in these chairs like this. They're movable chairs with a desk. And whenever the teacher would turn her back we'd move our chair two inches forward. And then she'd turn around and she'd talk, da da, da da, da. And then, but she could hear it. And then she'd write on the board. Next time we'd move our chairs six inches forward. Pretty soon we're right next to her. She's turning around and she can't figure out what's wrong. She was starting to freak out. And then finally, finally some people started laughing and then she figured it out, and, but nobody finked on me so I didn't get in trouble. But I'd organize little small rebellions in class for different, you know, just to, just to make it interesting. So as a student I was actually a very good student. I got good grades. But I, and I wasn't really overtly rebellious. I think it was just, I think I talked too much. I liked, I liked just having a little more freedom than the classroom situation that was afforded us in those days was like.

TI: Well, it sounds like you were also an organizer way back then, in terms of organizing groups. Are there other examples of that, when you were growing up, as a kid, that you would do things whether it was sports or a work thing, or whatever, as growing up?

DM: Not on any formal basis. Informally, different kids in the neighborhood would take leadership roles and try to do what we wanted to do. And I can't remember specifically being this overwhelming presence or this presence that led my friends to do all these things all the time. You know, I tried to be a student leader. I was president of my junior high and high school. But that was -- and I can't understand why I did that, either. It was, it was probably out of some misplaced ego or... I didn't particularly like student government, and yet, I think it was the idea of running for these offices and just seeing what was out there.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Talk about sports and the impact of sports growing up.

DM: Yeah. Gardena was a big sports town. It wasn't just because of my father. It was just a small community, and sports was really big in that -- it's just like any, a lot of little communities where sports kinda dominates. I mean, we had some really highly talented kids come out of Gardena High School and play major league sports. But, so it was always, there was always that dream, perhaps not for us quite as much. But we played, there were a lot of organized sports programs. I played a lot of basketball and baseball. I played varsity basketball, varsity baseball. And everyone was encouraged to get into sports in some ways.

TI: Now, was it common for Japanese Americans to be varsity basketball and varsity baseball?

DM: Not really. In fact, on the varsity basketball team there was one other Japanese American guy when I was playing. And we were fifteen percent of the student body, ten to fifteen percent. Baseball was a little bit more common, but you never saw maybe more than two or three Japanese Americans playing varsity. I guess in those days they, we were growing up smaller, in general, and so you didn't have as much chance. In football, same thing. There were a little bit more in football for some reason. I think that was the most popular sport, so... and you had larger teams, so there were more people that could belong to that team. In our varsity team, let's see, there were two Japanese Americans in baseball. We had about three Mexican Americans; a Chinese American played center fielder, center field. We had an African American in right field. I mean, there was just quite a mix. So there were Japanese Americans who played varsity in virtually every sport, but in general, as I recall -- and this is pretty anecdotal -- most of 'em were in, played tennis.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: It just strikes me in the last few minutes, in hearing about your growing up, your childhood, your school. So you were pretty much a straight "A" student, you were a very good athlete in terms of making the varsity team in baseball and basketball. I think you said you were the student body president in both your junior high school and high school.

DM: Uh-huh.

TI: I mean, it -- that sounds very impressive. I mean, it sounds amazing in some ways. I mean, how do you view those years? Was that a fun, fond time for you?

DM: Yeah, except, looking back, I was extremely driven. You know, I look back at that and I, where I mentioned, you know, I wonder why I did that. And I realize why I did it. Gardena promotes this culture of achievement, superior achievement. And it has a culture that could be really, really oppressive at times, and very dangerous to young people. Because the idea is -- it's a community. So parents talk, they talk to each other, oh, my son did this, my daughter did this. And so achievement in every aspect became really important rather than the happiness or the fulfillment of potential of children. You had to achieve along predetermined, pretty set scale, and that would be student government, grades, sports. There, it didn't reward you for being an artist, for example. And one year in Gardena, in, maybe about twelve years after I had left to go to law school, when, when drugs were rampant, especially reds, downers -- twelve, twelve kids in Gardena died, twelve Japanese American kids. Most of 'em from suicide; overdoses. And nobody's really talked about it. Nobody's studied that. But all of us from, who were a part of that generation or a little bit older, probably felt the same thing. That there was so much pressure as a young child to achieve, that it was overwhelming for some people who couldn't. And that was destructive.

TI: Now, for you personally, though, when you're in that environment, did you notice that? Or, the sense I get is you're such a competitor you probably just went at it and just tried to do the best you could and in some ways compete against others during that period. And are you now sort of looking backwards at that environment? I'm just trying to get a sense of, of, sort of who you are as person, especially in those sort of stressful or pressure situations.

DM: Well, in those days you didn't notice it because you were weren't self-aware, or I wasn't self-aware enough to understand what was happening to me. I did notice that I used to chew off the paint of all of my pencils. And I thought that was very strange. I'd have these solid wood pencils without the yellow thing on the outside, you know, little yellow paint. And I'd be gnawing at this during class and it became an anal-compulsive kinda habit I would have. And I never, never realized it until much later on. I thought, "God," you know, "why did I ever do that?" And I realized that there's probably some element of how the tension had to resolve itself in some ways by chewing paint off pencils, which is pretty sick. It's probably why -- I could've been a lot smarter if it wasn't the lead poisoning that's probably infiltrated my brain. But I handled it because I was able to.

And I was... but looking back, one of the reasons I left Gardena is, intuitively I felt that that was not conducive for you, for any person there to find themselves, to really find themselves, to be placed in a psychological box by people in that community and not allowed to experiment and try something else to see what could become of you. So that's why I left for Berkeley. Because I think for all the advantages of being, growing up in Gardena, and it was wonderful to grow up in Gardena for a lot of reasons. That type of narrow perspective, I think, was, was, inhibited somebody from realizing their true potential. So looking back now -- and I remember specifically when I started giving up being competitive, as competitive. I, people still think of me as competitive today, but I remember playing basketball, and in my law school I got recruited to play for this team because they knew I played basketball from L.A. And so we played on the team and we won the league. In fact we were undefeated, won the state championship in the Japanese American league. And if you win in those days you have to move up to the higher level. And I could just see myself going back to the old days of becoming as competitive and needing to win as I was before. And I just didn't think that was really healthy. And I realized -- and Berkeley was good for that. And there was a whole new sense of culture with the counterculture coming along, a sense of collaboration, of cooperation. There was another way. It wasn't just you have to win all the time. So while I'm still fairly competitive in most things, I think I, maybe it's age, maybe it's self-awareness, I think I have mellowed quite a bit compared to how I was then.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MC: Did your older brothers have any influence on you in that regard?

DM: My older brothers had lots of influences, lots of influences... let me start that again. My older brothers had lots of influences on me. My older brother is really smart. I mean, this is a straight "A" student. He went on to dental school and graduated the top of his class, then went to medical school and graduated at the top of his class. He was a really creative thinker. So he would encourage me to -- he'd play games, mental games. He was also a pretty good athlete. He was number one on his tennis team but he never thought of himself as an athlete. He always wanted to think of himself as somebody smart. That was his identity. And he was, he was really smart. He studied everywhere, everywhere he went. But he also felt that you needed to exercise your mind as much as you can so he'd play these little games with me. You know, he'd say, "Quick, take a look at that building and look away." And I would. And he goes, "How many floors are there?" And I'd go, "Six, seven." He goes, "There's ten." And I go, "How do you know?" He goes -- he just practiced these little mind games on himself. And he would do this all the time. And it was, actually, and my mom was somewhat like that, too, in the sense that my mom is eighty-nine years old and does crossword puzzles every day, does puzzles. The idea of mental agility and mental fertility and using your mind a lot in creative ways is very important to them. Not in traditional creative ways like painting and doing music or anything like that. So he taught me really about how to think, how important it is to think and learn. He was so curious, and he still is. He taught me about curiosity, and it was a great gift I got to be able to try to -- it took me to places that I thought I'd never be. I, you kinda wanna learn everything, and then you realize you can't do that. There's just way too much information especially with the computer age, you then have to be a little smarter in terms of not trying to learn everything.

My middle brother was less cerebral by far. But he was a terrific athlete. He was a much bigger guy. He was built like a tank. He was a varsity football player, varsity baseball player. He got a baseball scholarship to play at Santa Barbara, which is very rare for a Japanese American at that time. So he played baseball at Santa Barbara. And he would take me out and make me play with him. And I was only a year and a half younger but I was much smaller and weaker than he was. And I would just get banged around mercilessly for the longest time. But one thing he taught me about is to be really tough. But both physically and mentally, because they go hand-in-hand. We'd play one-on-one basketball and as I was going for a lay-up I'd get past him 'cause I was a lot quicker than him. He would just shove me straight into the garage, face plant right into the garage. I'd go, "Hey man. That's not part of it." He goes, "Come on, you wuss." And then he'd laugh. And I wasn't really hurt. So then we'd play some more and then I'd get to do it to him and it actually became a kinda game. But it taught me something about both physical and mental toughness. He also, I remember, and this is kinda a important part of my upbringing, a critical part of my life. I was, my first year at USC where I went to college. I was trying out for the frosh team, basketball. I made the team. So the practices were just brutal. I was studying. I was working for my dad in the sporting goods, twenty hours a week. We always had to do that. And I was telling him, "I just can't do all of this." And in his typical way, he goes, you know, "Quit complaining. Why don't you just do it? Work out a schedule. Just do it." And it was like, I thought, "Oh, gee, maybe I am a wuss." So I started to figure out what he meant. And I think he set me on the road to being anal-compulsive. 'Cause then I would have to map out almost every hour of my day for that first, probably year, because I had to, until I quit playing. I quit the frosh team and that saved me a lotta time. Until that point, but I learned, it taught me how to really be organized about time and try to be efficient. And try not to complain too much. So my brothers were major influences on my life, I would say. Besides the fact that my parents cut me a lot more slack, I think, 'cause they had, by then, raised two children and they were less worried that I was gonna be a dope addict or a criminal or something.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MC: Where do you think some of the conformity and competitiveness in Gardena came from? Do you think it was possibly a cultural influence? Was it the '50s maybe? Was it possibly in response to the internment? Because I know that some others have written about sort of super-conformity to sort of American values as a result of the internment.

DM: Tell me if I'm talking too long.

TI: No, this is fine.

DM: Okay, you just tell me. You know, that's a really good question. I think part of it is Japanese, cultural Japanese. And partly what you have is when you have a homogeneous group, like the Japanese were in Japan, you know, in villages, or in towns, and everybody knows each other's business. I think it could be, I shouldn't say a natural phenomenon, 'cause I don't think it's universal, but I think the idea of status, the idea of acclaim, I think that's very, very much a Japanese cultural value. So I think partly it's that. And partly coming over and transplanting themselves in this country and having a forum or a venue where they could act out some of these Japanese cultural values, probably encouraged that type of competition. I think also, I think you're right, I think the camps probably did have an effect. Because you know, in a sense we were surrogates for our parents. We became their dreams that they could never have. We became a people that they wished they could have been had there not been racism in the camps or discrimination in the camps. And so in a way, I think, I think the kids were pushed pretty hard to achieve. I think that's one part of it. I think the second part of it is a secret wish. It's both a wish and a need. The wish is that, "I'm gonna have my kids be so good that they're gonna show all those white people out there that we're worthy of being Americans." So I think there might have been a subtle part of that. The need part of it was, "We need you to be exceptional. You gotta be twice as good as everyone else. 'Cause if you're not they're gonna send you to the camps again." And while that wasn't said, specifically, I kinda sensed that's kinda like a subconscious idea that Japanese Americans had that they had to be so good. They couldn't make any mistakes. You couldn't afford to screw up whether it be being too visible about political issues, or being bad in school, or any of those things. I think the camps really did reinforce that notion of you have to be really, really good to remain in this country safely.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Within the community growing up, how were the camps discussed with either your parents or amongst peers, or amongst other people in the community?

DM: You know, until the redress struggle started, they weren't discussed at all. I mean, I, it's a simple answer to that question. Almost never. It would come up in the context of, "Oh, that's George Furukawa. We knew him from camps." Or, "Oh yeah, we met them in Santa Anita when we were at the racetrack, camps." But you never heard 'em talk about conditions. Just rarely would they advert to or refer to an instance that happened, an incident that happened in camp, almost never negatively. I know, I think they just wanted to forget. They felt shamed. It was a traditional kind of psychology that Japanese Americans went through. With a typical psychology. So we didn't talk about it at all.

TI: So what happened when you first started learning about those, perhaps in school or your own research? When did that happen?

DM: In high -- I remember we always were aware of the shadow of the camps in the back, that they had gone somewhere sometime and were taken away by the government. But we were young at that time and our lives revolved around sports and school and so it wasn't -- and theirs was about making a living and surviving. So there was no need to discuss that -- or not, not a need, people didn't discuss it. I learned about it, some parts of it from them, I learned parts of it in school, there were a couple of paragraphs in history books and that's about all there was in high school. And in college I learned a little bit more about it. And it went, I guess when I really started questioning it was when the Civil Rights movement started going in full bloom and there were demonstrations in the South and that carried over to more demonstrations, calls for sit-ins and equality. And that gave rise to the real, to the notion of ethnic identity. And in 1967, groups of Asian Americans -- and led mostly by Japanese Americans, because they were more Americanized at the time, and mostly at UCLA -- started discussing the issue of the camps and identity. And I remember bringing that up to my folks and they would give me bits and pieces of information but they really didn't want to talk about it.

So we really didn't talk about it until probably, let's see, I went to law school in the '70s. I started getting more interested in it then 'cause I read the Korematsu case. I read the Hirabayashi case in law school in 1969 and after that I started asking them a little more, and they told me a little more. I started looking at the photographs. And they told me a little bit about them. And I remember probably in the mid- to late-'70s when -- no, excuse me, the mid-'70s, I, in the early '70s I hooked up with a group called the Bay Area JACL and our leader was a man named Edison Uno. He was the president of our organ-, of our little JACL chapter. It was a crazy little chapter. They did all kinds of wild things, and one of 'em was to ask for redress. That was in 1972. He actually did it in 1970 but he came to the 9th national convention in 1972 and demanded redress. And about that time I started asking my mother and my father. They talked a little more but I remember one, really clearly at one point, I said, "What was it like, Mom? What was it like to be in the camps?" I said, "Where did you go?" And she went to Santa Anita. And she was telling me about how when she got there with her younger sister. There was horse stalls. There was hay on the ground. There was dirt. There was horse shit on the walls. It smelled terrible. There was one light. There was no place to sleep, no place to go to the bathroom. And she started crying. And it's the first time I ever saw her, started tearing. She goes, "I guess it was pretty bad." And then she didn't want to talk about it too much because she goes, "I don't want to talk about it right now." But I'd never seen her reflect or have that kind of emotional reaction ever before. And that was in the early '70s when the redress movement first started.

TI: And so how did that make you feel when you saw your mother tear up like that?

DM: Wow. Then I realized, wow this was something. I mean, this was -- you could read about stuff in a book, but when your own mother, who's really tough, and you know, hardly ever complains about anything, mentioned that -- and the way she's phrased it, 'cause she was kind of protective of her little sister. And her sister started to cry when she was in, she saw it in the camps, too. And so, she saw those conditions. So I felt that, wow this is, this is a bigger issue than I really understood it to be, both from an intellectual point of view or an emotional point of view. And so I started listening more to what Edison was saying. And then in 1974 I came up to Seattle. Maybe that was the first or second time I came up to Seattle to the Seattle convention here. Was it in Seattle or Portland? No, I think it was in Seattle. And we brought the issue of redress again to the floor and the idea was, was accepted, of course, but there was nothing that was pursued very much.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: In general, what was the feeling? I mean, asking for redress at that point was a pretty innovative idea. It wasn't really discussed up until that point. What were the reactions of, like the Niseis and others to that?

DM: You know, it's funny because the thing passed almost unanimously if not unanimously. And I think partly it was because Edison was a commanding presence and made a terrific speech and the Seattle folks were awesome. They had some crazy people up here, man. It was not just crazy, crazy, bad crazy, but they were so rabid about, and so strong. I should say forceful, "rabid" is a bad word to put it, but forceful about demanding redress and justice for what happened. Somehow we bonded, the Bay Area chapter and the Seattle folks got together really, really well and the presentation was so forceful that nobody wanted to say, "No." [Laughs] And so everybody just kind of went along with it. But there wasn't a lot of great either hostility toward it, expressed hostility in a typical Japanese American or Japanese way. There were a lot of people probably bad-mouthing us behind our backs. But nobody overtly said that we shouldn't do that.

TI: And when you mentioned the Seattle group, was that like the Henry Miyatake, that group, or is that, I'm trying to remember...

DM: It was Henry --

MC: Boeing engineer people?

TI: Yeah, Mike Naka --

DM: I remember only one of them. He eventually moved down to California. I forgot his name, too, this is what happens. But it was that group. It was the same group. It was part of that same chapter. Absolutely.

TI: Shosuke Sasaki.

DM: Yeah.

TI: Those guys.

DM: Yeah, and when redress started, though, in the late '70s, or the idea started gaining momentum, then my parents started talking openly. I think, I mean, they talked very openly, they started talking more and more and more and more. And then when I got involved with Korematsu and the coram nobis cases with Hirabayashi and Yasui, too, my parents just would, you couldn't stop 'em after that. [Laughs] I think they felt vindicated. At one point they felt, they realized -- like a lotta Japanese Americans that I have talked to -- once redress was either passed, not even passed, but when the movement went forward and they got used to the idea that, "Yeah, we were victims," I saw a total loosening of the voices of Japanese Americans. They were able to speak again about the camps, and not in a -- in a very, very strong way about how they felt. They were being, opened up about their feelings. They felt free to talk about one of the terrible things, some of the terrible things that happened to them.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So, it sounds like you got quite a bit of support and encouragement, especially in those early days, for the redress movement, the coram nobis, so that was all positive for you.

DM: Actually, yes and no. It was a supported forum 'cause the JACL did agree to pass the resolutions but they didn't do anything. And Edison was always after 'em to do something. Form a committee, do something, which they finally did, but the committee didn't do a whole lot. And they formed successively stronger committees, as I remember. So we actually didn't get a lot of support, not for redress. But I remember in 1974, Edison said, "Can you do a legal analysis on redress? Because we want to see if we could file a lawsuit." This was in '74. In 19-, just as a little backdrop, in 1970 there was a project at Boalt Hall, Berkeley, where I went to law school, run by a Professor Sato, a Japanese American, one of the tenured professors, which was highly unusual. And they had a project going on to examine the legality of the incarceration of Japanese Americans. And I went to volunteer for him. He goes, "Oh, we don't need volunteers." He was not known as one of the more progressive professors, although he was a nice man, good family, too. But he said, "No, we don't need any more volunteers." He goes, "We're not gonna be able to challenge this in courts." And in some ways he was right. But then, so I had some incipient interest in this Korematsu case, and in the Hirabayashi cases, 'cause when I read 'em they made no sense. They made no sense from a personal point of view. From a legal and logical point of view they were terrible cases. Poorly written, poorly argued, so, when, in '74 when Edison asked me to do an analysis, I looked at this stuff, and we looked at the precedents from the German reparations to the Jews. I had a law clerk assigned during the summer to look at everything they could find about the issue of international reparations. And being skeptical of the court system as I was at the time, I think my answer was probably predetermined anyways. I remember, I can't, I don't, have the memo anymore but I gave Edison this memo, I said, "This case, rather than fight this case in the narrow halls of a courtroom they should be brought to the open forum of the American public and we should try for legislation." And so, and not and so, but Edison took that for what it was worth and started arguing for legislation, too, at the same time. He was always arguing for that but that just confirmed the path that he was on and we were all on at that time; that we need to get a bill here.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MC: Just to take you back a little further --

DM: Sure.

MC: -- into the past, you decided to major in political science when you were in college. Did you have an idea at that time that you were interested in going to law school and becoming a lawyer?

DM: Not in the least.

MC: Really?

DM: That I was aware of. I'm sure that somehow my father planted the seeds in that I was predetermined to go there anyways, but I didn't think so. I was interested in social psychology. What happened to me in 1965, Watts blew up and exploded in a paroxysm of rioting, burning, looting, African Americans were burning down their own neighborhoods. It, everybody was confused. Why are they doing this? Nobody understood that we have a major race problem in this country that nobody is addressing and the frustrations of that summer day finally boiled over into mass rioting and this huge conflagration. Watching from the freeway I thought all of L.A. was on fire. But it pushed me to think, well, "I need to learn more about this." Because I always had an interest in kind of racial justice. My father was actually, and my mother both were fairly progressive about racial justice. You shouldn't treat people differently. We deserve the same rights. And even though they weren't, they didn't pound away at it, whenever instances came up they would, they could kind of obliquely comment on it. And it always reflected the sense that everybody should be equal. So we developed that, I'm sure, partly from them.

MC: You mentioned earlier being influenced by the Civil Rights movement, which was happening around that time, the mid-'60s.

DM: Uh-huh, right.

MC: Did you have the sense of your own identity as being Asian American at that point?

DM: Not really. Not in 19-, not the mid-'60s. I think, looking backwards, the images that I remember seeing that kind of molded me in some ways, in a subconscious way. I remember clearly watching -- and this is an example of how my parents looked at this -- watching dogs and water hoses turned on the demonstrators, the African American demonstrators in the South. You know, dogs ripping men's shirt off while they were running away. I was stunned and appalled. And my mom commented on something, she goes, "That's wrong." She said something like that. And I thought, "God, you know, this is awful. All they're doing is trying to peacefully march or sit-in or something." But I didn't connect that up until much later. But you know, it had such an impact 'cause I can remember visually just seeing on them little tiny TVs that we had at the time. But in the mid-'60s it was, everything was a black/white issue, like it is today almost. We've moved forward, we have. But in those days when Watts blew up it truly was a black/white issue, or black and others issue. But it led me to start reading more and trying to learn about African Americans. And just coincidently I started taking a social psychology course. And so I started reading the Autobiography of Malcolm X. You could read whatever you wanted. I read Richard Wright's books, I read Manchild in the Promised Land, the Invisible Man, all the -- some of the black early classics.

MC: Those are all powerful books, too.

DM: Boy, they were. And so I just -- but it never, I never quite connected it up then consciously. But, you know, it all feeds into some hard drive back there that you can recall at some point it links up. At the same time my friend, I had a really good friend, he's still one of my best friends, who was, he was a Japanese American guy and he used to... we hung out together and he goes, "Let's go down to Watts. Let's see what's going on down there." So we went down there and they had sessions, special sessions that you could sit in. And we saw the anger of these African Americans and they were, they were so ticked off. And I was thinking, "What can make these people so mad?" And the way they explained it, it just seemed, it was scary. But when you get away from it and you get to process that and then you put it into, with the information you're getting from reading these books, you're starting to get a picture now of how racism distorts and can really degrade and change somebody.

So my first consciousness was the racial consciousness. I started getting that because, I remember I asked out a white woman in USC who was really nice to me, really nice and we used to hang out, we'd get coffee. And she was in a sorority. And I said, "Would you like to go see a movie Saturday?" She goes, and she just stiffened. And I saw a face that I've seen a number of times before but it was a horror of going out with... you know, you could be friends with somebody but once you cross that, that sex barrier of going out that was totally undesirable. And the first thing I thought was, "Damn, this is like the South." You know? [Laughs] And in high school we dated all races, but then I realized that at SC -- and then I started to understand what SC was like at that time and that was a microcosm of the whole country, run by white male, rich white male and white persons that belonged to these cliques, segregated cliques. And that time, of course, they were fraternities and sororities, with very, fairly structured class definition and that people of color were really at the bottom. SC was like that. And so it taught me a lot having gone through that social psychology class. So I thought maybe I'll go into social psychology. I loved political science. I loved dealing with political theory. It was very fascinating to me. But then my dad kind of convinced me to do something more practical. He said, "You don't have to practice law but you'll gain a set of skills that you can use in other areas and protect yourself."

MC: So were you thinking maybe of doing graduate work like a Ph.D. work?

DM: Yeah. I thought I was gonna do a Ph.D. in social psychology. That was the other option. Then I thought, I thought about it and I thought, "Yeah, he's right. I should probably do something practical." And that's how I went to law school. But I had no idea. I didn't know what lawyers did. I never met a lawyer by the time I went to law school.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So why don't we get going again and... about this time, when you were in law school the Vietnam War was going on. What were your thoughts about the Vietnam War?

DM: You know, by then, I had gone -- I was also an international relations minor. And so I would read -- and SC was fairly progressive, despite this reputation, it had a good educational program. So we would read some fascinating books. I remember reading a book by a former senator who was head of the Foreign Relations Committee from Arkansas called The Arrogance of Power. And it talked about the United States' role in trying to control other countries and the mistakes it made by supporting anti-democratic movements in order for its own self-interest. And the most striking example then was the overthrow of the democratically elected Arbenz government in Guatemala because United Fruit Company and Dole Pineapple wanted to control, control that country. And the United States CIA agents engineered the coup. And I thought, and that kind of intermeddling in the internal affairs, which was thought to be... there was thought... the intermeddling in the international affairs, I mean, it was just not, it was just not the proper thing to do. And they gave a lot of other examples of how United States exercises control.

And so, when I saw what happened, what was happening in Vietnam, by then I was primed to understand that there were other motives for this country. And the more I read the more I realized that there was no really good reason to be there. I looked at the history and... so I read quite a bit about it and I became really strongly anti-war at that time. And so I participated in the anti-war rallies and organizations. I started to do draft counseling. This was in law school, at the start of law school. I remember one of my Jewish friends telling me, "You've gotta get out of the draft. Your number is too high. You cannot participate in this immoral war." And so I thought about it and I thought, he's totally right. I'm, it's hypocritical for me to try to get other people out by draft counseling and not doing it myself. So that's how I started draft counseling where I just started it. And so I filed for conscientious objector. And I, and I knew in my heart that I was never gonna go fight in that war, ever. And the most interesting thing kinda happened at that time. It was my first year of law school in 1968, my first semester. And the first set of finals, I started getting some stomach problems. These were totally... and I never had 'em before. So I, when I was down in L.A., Gardena one day I was sent to the local doctor and the -- Japanese American guy, from Berkeley, he went to school in Berkeley and UCSF. And so I was telling him about my stomach problems and he's going, "Yeah, you know, you look like you have something like colitis," he goes, "but, you know, what do you think of this war that's going on?" And he brought it up. And I said, "Well, you know, I hate this war. I think this is an immoral war." And he goes, "Yeah, I do, too." He goes, "Yeah, I think you have colitis." And of course, I then looked into the manual because, since I was just starting to do draft counseling I realized that that's one of those conditions that gets you out. And so he wrote a letter to the draft board. And so I didn't... they never acted on my conscientious objector application but I got out on what they called a 1-Y, a medical, medical deferment. And it was really funny; the colitis went away after a little while. [Laughs] But I honestly think it was partly due to law school. Because at the time law school was just... it was like, it was just a pain.

TI: Well, in general, if you had gone down the CO path, if you didn't do the --

DM: Right.

TI: What would have happened, do you think?

DM: Oh, I would have been assigned to do some community work somewhere. That's where I would have looked for. So it wouldn't have ever been that bad. I would have deferred my career by a few years, but I wasn't bothered by that. I just knew I wasn't gonna fight in what I considered an immoral war.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Now, what law school did you go to? And tell me a little bit about your class going in, in terms of gender, race...

DM: I went to UC Berkeley Law School. I had applied to a number of places but I wanted to kinda stay not too far away from California. I got a full scholarship to SC to go to law school there so my dad was totally upset when I decided I was gonna go to Berkeley, 'cause Berkeley had a culture that was just evolving in, not just evolving. They've always been a different kind of place that essentially valued individualism. And allowed people to do a lot of different things and... which is absolutely the mirror -- excuse me, the opposite image of what Gardena was like. So we had a big argument about that. We had a falling out for that, about that and the Vietnam war, and we didn't talk to each other hardly for a couple of years, maybe a couple, three years, hardly at all. So, but I went to Berkeley.

TI: Was this really the first time you really broke from your father, too? Over something like this?

DM: Actually, no. I used to argue with him all the time. In fact, my older brothers were appalled at the way I would argue. I just was arguing. I always was just rebellious. 'Cause I'd stay out late and play poker with my friends. You know, in those days I really didn't drink or do, I didn't do drugs or anything like that. Even though I was underage, I didn't drink. I didn't particularly care for it like I do now. [Laughs] But, I'd stay out late with my friends and somehow I would always get in arguments with him. And I think we were very similar personalities, which, both kind of headstrong. So they were appalled. So this was a continuation, pretty much, of our relationship.

TI: Okay. And so you're now at Cal.

DM: So, and I'm at Cal, at Berkeley. The first week I'm there, the Third World Strikes start in San Francisco State. There were boycotts and pickets all over the place. There's demonstrations, riots, tear gas, police everywhere both at San Francisco State and Berkeley. And I'm thinking, "Wow, this is really a wild place." In my class there were five other Asians. One from Hawaii, one from Chinatown, one from LA, there were just five total out of a class of 170. There were probably around ten or twelve Mexican Americans or Hispanics and maybe around fifteen African Americans, if that, very few women, very few women. So it wasn't what you'd call a diverse class, although, by Boalt standards now, it may be diverse 'cause of the way Boalt has gone. And it was a class that was kind of interesting, 'cause in 1968 what you saw was a cataclysmic year and the intersection of these various movements seemed to have come to Berkeley at one point in time and that was the anti-war movement which was huge in the Bay Area. I mean, it was a hotbed of dissent in Berkeley and San Francisco and Oakland for that matter. You had the counterculture movement, which is the tune in, turn on, drop out; drugs, alternate lifestyles, disrespect for any rules that were ever created, was, alternate consciousnesses. That's part of that movement. At the same time you had the Ethnic Studies Third World Strike movement, the Civil Rights movement, come home in the form of the need for relevant education for people of color. That was the format it took. Rather than... we didn't have those kinds of issues of segregation like down South, or sitting in the back of the bus, but the form it took was demand for relevant education from the schools.

All of those were, happened in a year, where Robert Kennedy got assassinated, John Carlos and Tommie Smith put their hand in the air with a black glove in the Mexican, at the Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. There was the demonstrations and the Democratic National Convention where there were tons of violence. So it was a really, really crazy year in that one particular year. It just kind of carried over into my law school education where, where, you know, we're out of class, maybe, a third of the time.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MC: I'm gonna ask whether your law school education seemed sort of irrelevant? That first year of law curriculum is so detached from any sort of social movements.

DM: Yeah, I think it really was. And I think, I think, even though I was in the thick of, I wasn't in the thick of any of those particular movements, I wasn't, I was brand-new to Berkeley. This was the first time I lived away from home. I was just trying to survive there and get a feel for what it was like to live away from home. And so I, well, I participated peripherally in some of those things. I wasn't in the middle of those. But the thing that probably impressed me the most was about Berkeley and how it kind of led me down this path was, the first night I was in the dorms where I was staying. And I was with my friends and we were discussing the grading system that they had announced earlier that day. The system they had set up was called TML. They wanted to avoid "A," "B," "C," "D," "F." So they set up a quota system. The top ten percent in any class got a "T." The middle 80 percent got an "M," the lower ten percent got an "L," "C," "D," or "F." So, I mean, they didn't quite abolish it. It was a quota. They had to give these kind of grades. So we're thinking, very first night, we're thinking, you could work your butt off and get in the 89th percentile and get an "M." You could do absolutely no work, don't show up in class, get an eleventh percentile and get an "M." We looked at each other, we just started laughing. And I was such a guy who was studying in a grind. I thought, but this was an offer too good to refuse. So then we counted out at least ten people who were dumber than us, who didn't study as much, who were on drugs, who were gonna quit, who never went to class. We identified fifteen people and we knew we were totally safe. And it set the course because we really didn't have to study. So I felt, and we all did feel that we should at least go to class sometimes. So we went to class sometimes, at least the first semester, especially. Because we, I think I knew we needed to get some training in what the law was about 'cause we knew it was different. And so we did go occasionally. And then after that it just, we hardly showed up because we knew we knew we were gonna be in the eleventh percentile. So, and it was the first time I came to grips with competition that way, of struggling to be the top, to be the best. I had to say, "No. I'm going to learn more, and I'm going to gain more from not going to class every day and studying all night, by reading other things, learning new experiences." And that kind of, I credit Berkeley for that. Because I got, because of that grading system, it helped me overcome, I think, some, some personality issues that perhaps would have taken me on a different path than where I would have liked to have gone.

MC: Did you feel alienated at all in law school?

DM: Oh, absolutely. Law school was a terrifically alienating experience. Partly because the discipline and the methodology of teaching is much different than reading books and learning and spitting it back, you have to engage actively in discussions. The subject matter itself was very alienating because it was not anything related to -- they didn't teach it as a course about real people. They taught it as more abstract concepts. The students were a wide variety and I think in any other school I would have been really alienated but there were so many people who were just about similarly alienated, we formed our own alienated group and did alienated things together, like go see all kinds of crazy movies and do other stuff. So, yeah, I did not feel at home in law school itself but I met some great, great people there that helped me both gain political insight and learn other parts about myself. And so I can't say the law -- I mean, the law school was alienating but the students that I met that became friends were just the opposite. We became friends and helped me change my perspective and learn new things.

TI: Well, during this period, how about getting involved with the Asian American community in the Bay Area? Were there opportunities for that for you?

DM: There were opportunities, but because there were no Asians in law school, hardly at all at the time, the only -- and I, and one of the reasons I went to Berkeley was to stay a little more anonymous. So I didn't make as much contact with the undergraduate community. I kind of wanted to play out this hand that I was given which was an anti-Gardena hand and that would be hanging around doing different things within the law school environment with your -- or, not law school environment but your friends from law school. And it was more counterculture than it was anything else. It was counterculture and anti-war more than anything else. If I had taken that step to do more civil rights stuff, which ironically I'm doing more now, then I probably would have gotten in touch with more Asian Americans. And so the only contact I really had was playing basketball. But that was with a bunch of guys, so it wasn't like a social thing for me at all. And it wasn't until much later that I get more involved in the Asian American community in San Francisco where there was really a large community to get involved in.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Well, as you were going through law school, did your career start taking shape in terms of what you wanted to do after you graduated?

DM: Actually, no. I had... when I graduated USC I had no skills. Well, actually, when I graduated high school I had no skills. So I went into political science. I mean, I was, I was a winner of the math/science award in high school, but I was a total fraud. It, I was a grind and that's the reason I can get through and understand chemistry. Physics I liked, but chemistry was really hard. And advanced math, the only reason I got an "A" in there was I talked my way into an "A," which should have been a sign right then and there. But I knew I was a fraud and for math, science so that's why I went into political science. I had no skills.

TI: Well, you said you were the winner of the math/science --

DM: Yeah.

TI: -- contest?

DM: The Bank of America Math Science Award for the school. So... which is really crazy when I look back on that now, because I wasn't, I really wasn't that good at it. I just worked really hard or in one situation was able to talk my way into a good grade. And then so, when I graduated from SC I had no skills. So of course that's why, one of the reasons I went to law school. So I didn't have any set of skills that I could apply, a set of interests that commanded my attention as far as what area of law to get into. So, so it wasn't until about the third year. I remember the third year I was kind of, just kind of cruising around, didn't know what I was gonna do. I applied for jobs in Portland and Washington and Colorado where I thought I was more of a hippie at that time. And one of my friends... a new group had come into the school, the first affirmative action class, two years after me. There were five Asians in my class, six in the class before -- I mean after, and then twenty-three Asians came in. And one of the members of the middle class, I was third-year, the two, the second-year came up to me and said, "Hey, do you wanna help these guys, do you want to tutor some of these folks? They could use some help." And I kinda cracked up, 'cause I thought oh, boy, I don't know anything, except I could write. So I was, I could help them with writing. And so I became part of the Asian American student organization there that was formed by this middle group. I didn't know hardly any of these folks at the time but I... that's when I started getting involved in Asian American issues, really through this group in law school when I started working with the students and I got on the admissions committee, and started promoting the affirmative action idea with the law school.

MC: It's interesting because there's sort of a myth that's perpetuated even now that Asian Americans don't need affirmative action, but back then, it clearly made a difference in the numbers.

DM: Oh, there was no question. Affirmative action made a major difference. If you could look, you could look on the judges that are out there, a lot of them are beneficiaries of the affirmative action program. Leaders everywhere you'll see. And so I think you're totally right that there was a myth that we didn't need it. But if you still look at the figures, Asian Americans still don't represent parity in the legal profession. But I think that's gonna change because Asian Americans are getting in at a higher rate nowadays. Well, it depends on what Asian American group you're talking about. 'Cause we don't, still don't have a hell of a lot of Cambodian, Mien, Hmong attorneys which is, we're gonna need that, and Vietnamese attorneys for that matter.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MC: You talked earlier about studying Korematsu in law school. So I assume that you read it for your constitutional law class, and do you remember anything? Besides the fact that you thought that the opinion was really poorly written and difficult to follow in its reasoning. Were there any other reactions that you had?

DM: Yeah. You know, the first reaction I had was, this is bullshit. I mean really. That was the specific reaction. I said, "This is bullshit." They're talking about my mom and dad and my brother. My brother wasn't a threat. My parents were not a threat. And then the logic and reasoning... I wasn't as attuned to legal thinking in those days since I wasn't going to class enough to train to get there, in some ways, but I could tell bullshit when I saw it. And that was clearly... so I --

MC: So did you get angry?

DM: Yeah, no, I was really upset. That's why I volunteered for this project. I just thought this is -- and I kinda thought, half of me was like, "Oh, I guess this is the way things are." The other half was, "This is bullshit. We should do something about this." But the other half says, "Well, we can't, it's 1943, '44, how are you ever gonna do anything like this?" But what it did to me is... so I had to come away with that conflict. And what I came away with is that the law is, the rule of law as absolute justice or absolute values is a total myth. The rule of neutral impartial arbitrators, like judges, is a myth and that there are values beyond law that drive justice.

MC: Uh-huh. Would you describe your attitude towards law as being cynical, or cautiously optimistic?

DM: I am cynical, but I'm not cynical to the point of despair. You know, there's levels of cynicism and the worst level is the worst kind of cynicism you could ever be, 'cause then you're giving up on everything, I think. And you should never be that cynical. If you have to be that cynical there's, you really are gonna be a pretty negative person overall. I think skeptical would be a better way to describe it. Because I'm really skeptical about anything that deals with legal decisions now. And that's been reinforced from being a lawyer. You know that when you start practicing law, you're advocating positions that perhaps you morally don't believe in. You prefer not to but you see that happening all the time. And you, you're saying things that are kinda like massaging the truth, but that's all acceptable 'cause, you know, law is like poker. You're allowed to bluff. That's part of the rules. But unfortunately many lawyers take that that over the personal lives, which then creates another host of problems that we're, take too long to talk about. But I do feel that it helped me get a true understanding of the law, but you know, it wasn't structured. It's not like you critical legal thinkers now, or critical race theorists who are really trying to structure what this all means, which I think is wonderful. Because I didn't have a framework then, there weren't critical legal, critical race theorists or legal theorists at those times that I knew about. Well, no, there were but they weren't called that.

MC: But you recognized, even then, for example, from reading Korematsu that law served as sort of a window dressing for power --

DM: Exactly.

MC: -- or deployment for power, right.

DM: See, the thing that helped me was, I was, I was a political science major, too. So I understood the way we were taught political science in USC was kind of interesting. The idea, it was not traditional. The notion of what is power was a really interesting concept to me 'cause it's not just fifty-one percent people voting. And it doesn't even matter how many people vote, generally speaking. If the losing group is willing to not riot in the streets, kinda thing. There's all these different theories they have in politics that were really exciting to me because they helped me understand the reality of what the world was like. And it was more realistic about what the world was like, and what the United States was like. So I understood power and I... there's been an evolving realization that it takes so many different forms. Power comes out of the barrel of a gun. Power comes from voting. Power comes from moral authority like black Americans have which is why Trent Lott had to step down. You know, nobody threatened him. Blacks couldn't vote him out of office. But there was a moral authority they had that translates into power. And so I understood that. And I learned and understood these later on, but the intuitive part of it tells me that the Korematsu case was a case about power and it wasn't a case about justice and law. And so, later on I was able to put that in a better framework and explain it; where before I thought, "This is screwed up, this is bullshit." That was about as far as I can get then.

MC: That's interesting. And was it about that time when you were in law school that you also were working with the JACL, or did the Bay Area JACL stuff start after that?

DM: No. I was in law school from '68 to '71 and '72 was when I started, I joined the Bay Area JACL.

MC: So it was right after you had graduated?

DM: Right after I graduated. 'Cause in 1970, Edison, I think, put his first resolution forward. 1972 was the second, '74... well, they did it every year. '74 was the third which I participated in.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MC: So, what did you do right after you graduated from law school besides take the bar exam?

DM: Well, you know, my father wanted me to come down to Gardena. And he wanted me to talk to his friends who were lawyers. He had a couple of friends, or friends of friends who were district attorneys. Well, in those days, police and the district attorneys were the most hated people you could ever think of. 'Cause of course you were doing all kinds of illegal things, but that's another story. But I didn't want to be a DA. I didn't want to go back to Los Angeles. So I wanted to stay up there. And in my third year with working with the Asian American students, a lawyer named Ken Kawaichi, who's a judge, and the second-year students, or the year before me, had started a little group. And they didn't have a name, but they wanted to call it like, was it Asian Commune or something, Law Commune or something. The idea was they wanted to form an organization to serve the poor, poor Asian Pacific Americans. And so I was the first one out. The older attorney, the one attorney who was practicing was with a firm. And so I would be the first of that group to graduate. So, their idea was to give me a job. And I always wanted to teach. So they got me a job at Berkeley teaching subject A English, bonehead English. So I was in Asian American Studies. And then I got a job by myself because that one didn't pay enough to support myself, at Mills College, which is a small, private, used to be all-women's college at the time, teaching Introduction to Ethnic Studies. And Warren Furutani from Los Angeles, who was a heavyweight at the time, he was the most well-known political Asian American figure around, whom I grew up with, I said, "Warren, I need some help. Write a letter?" Of course Warren wrote a letter. So he helped me out. And then...

MC: So your first jobs were teaching jobs?

DM: Teaching jobs.

MC: Out of law school.

DM: Right. And, because there was a gap between the time you take the bar, 'til the time they announce your results. In those days it wasn't in November like it is now, it was in January of the next year. So I was, I would be out of a job. I took the bar in August but I would be out of a job for four months. I had to make a living somehow, 'cause I didn't have enough money to support myself. So I took, I studied for the bar at the very same time I put together three different classes. It was, and it was at that time that everything my middle brother taught me came through. I had every hour, honestly, every hour of the day was scheduled. I couldn't afford to be sick, I couldn't afford to do anything 'cause, you know, I had to learn, I had to learn all these new subjects to teach it. So I really, I knew exactly what I had to do every day. And so then, starting in September, I started, well no, actually, yeah, starting in, that was '71 so starting in September I started teaching. And...

MC: And they were ethnic studies classes?

DM: Ethnic studies courses.

MC: At both places?

DM: Yeah. Yes. Asian American Studies in Berkeley.

MC: Specifically.

DM: Yeah.

MC: Uh-huh. And did you, so did you teach about the internment?

DM: Yes, absolutely. I taught about the internment, we talked about the land grabs against Mexican Americans. We used a book called To Serve the Devil. There were no books about this stuff in those days. This is before multicultural history and Ron Takaki and stuff like that. So...

MC: There were a couple of readers that came about in the early '70s. Roots was one of them, I think.

DM: Roots we used. I used lots from UCLA. I used lots of Xeroxed articles from there, or copied articles. Yeah, 'cause we had to put together our own readers in those days. There weren't, stuff, so you just lift stuff. They didn't have Race, Rights and Reparation, which of course I would have used over and over, 'cause it's such a wonderful book. That's a plug. [Laughs]

MC: Well, what did you use you use --

DM: That's a plug. [Laughs]

MC: [Laughs] What did you use, though, to teach the internment? Because when I taught it, when I taught Asian American studies in the mid-'80s I used organizing materials that people had put together.

DM: I used the case itself.

MC: Oh, okay.

DM: And there was... if I recall right it was one of the early Roger Daniels, Harry Kitano books, or one of the chapters. I think that's what I used. That's, I mean there was hardly anything there. Oh, I know, the other thing I used, no, what I used was Jacobus tenBroek, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution. And then I used, you know, there were a few of those, few of those tracks, and then I used, at one point I think I used the criticism of the Korematsu decision by one of the first, in 19-

MC: Dembitz?

DM: Pardon?

MC: By Nanette Dembitz?

DM: Not Dembitz, it was the one, the one right about, just before Dembitz in 1946. There was a...

MC: Rostow?

DM: Rostow. Eugene Rostow. Yeah.

MC: Who was Dean of Yale Law School and...

DM: Oh, see, I didn't know that.

MC: Yeah.

DM: See, I didn't know about the Dembitz or her connection to the exclusion until much, much later, which was a fascinating story in itself, 'cause of the apparently public -- well, that's another story to talk about.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MC: So then you, after you finished teaching those classes, at the end of that semester, that fall semester, is that when you started practicing then?

DM: Once I got past the bar.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: Which was in January 2nd, I got my license. Or, around January 12th, let's say, of 1972. I started practicing law with Ken Kawaichi, the mentor we had that wanted to form the Asian Law Commune. We continued to meet over the period of time to try to, try to find our bearings on this. I started writing proposals and so I wrote proposals for foundations to give money to help start this Asian law group which was unnamed at the time. And because of the nature of the foundations we were after, I had to change the name of our organization. So, and once I got -- and I had, now I had friends in the San Francisco community through my draft counseling and some volunteer work. So I had enough people that I could use help from. They let me call myself Japanese Community Services Legal Outreach. Another group was the Chinatown Law Project. And we were phony. Those were phony organizations. But the money all came into this one group. And it wasn't very much money. And so, as we met toward summertime I was practicing law, I was doing criminal defense which is, I'd do anything. But I did criminal defense 'cause that was the easiest way to work with Ken, who was doing some of that. And we got paid in all kinds of different things.

MC: Now --

DM: But we made a little bit of money to put together to start the actual Asian law group we were gonna start.

MC: Was your decision motivated at all by prejudice or discrimination against Asian American lawyers at that time by the firms? Or was it more motivated by a positive need to, or desire to work with the Asian American community?

DM: I think there were mixed motives as anything, they were probably mixed motives. I mean, the fact that I got rejected from every firm I... well I only sent out about six letters, but I got rejected by every firm, meant that I was not going to get a job. But I didn't really kinda care at that time because I was starting to teach and I kinda saw... I started moving toward this path. So, part of it was that. Part of it that, you know, I think, looking back, and knowing now there's a residual rage that happens to you when you learn your true history and learn of how the rhetoric of the United States that I bought into so much, was phony. The idea of equal protection. Or it could be phony in many occasions especially like the incarceration of Japanese Americans. So there's the rage. There's the anger that Asian Americans are not getting the respect they deserve. They're getting poor treatment. They don't have legal resources. And there's a positive interest in trying to empower them to make a change. So, like all of those, I think were factors in starting our group.

MC: So you were one of the co-founders along with Ken --

DM: Right. Right.

MC: -- of this group and did you just stay as a two-person unit for a while?

DM: Not really. We went through, it was a little bit more torturous than that. So, in the summertime we, we finally found a name. Ken's idea was we were gonna all live together in this big house and have a commune and practice law. And I thought, "That's ridiculous. I would never live with some of these people. We're gonna kill each other." 'Cause there were personalities that you didn't quite get along that came and went. Most of them went. So they were not even, they weren't even involved with the actual Asian Law Caucus when we finally formed it. But in the summertime an interesting thing happened. I, they, one of the students that I had gotten into law school, a guy named Garrick Lew, who is still my partner, didn't have a summer job because he was so committed to starting this organization. And he's a real hustler. He always had summer jobs. Always had nice clothes, good cars, 'cause he was such a scammer. But he actually wanted to scam for good this time. This was for the Caucus. So he and I spent the summertime working together, found an office. He actually physically built the furniture. He hustled other furniture from Kaiser, used furniture that they were gonna throw away. We, we had bricks and board library. When we do the depositions of some of these people with these big firms would come in and go, "Oh, my God, where are we?" So it was just he and I.

And so before, just before then, a guy named Mike Lee who was one of the real, soul of the second-year law students that in fact got me involved in things, a Chinese American guy from Hawaii, called me up. We were trying to get lawyers because the whole idea, is a wonderful lawyer. Dale will be our lawyer then we'll have other lawyers coming over. Hell, nobody else stepped forward. Except Garrick. There was only two of us. And so it was Garrick and I, and so then Mike calls up one night and he's, he's had a few to drink. And he's, but it didn't diminish his ardor or his sincerity 'cause he said, "You know what? I gotta do this. I can't go back to Hawaii." 'Cause he, his, he was a famous family. His uncle was Judge Fong who's really well-known and he goes, "I can't do this. I'm gonna, we need to do this, we need to do this for the future." The guy has a lot of heart. He still does. So he signed on. But he had to take the bar, so he couldn't help at all during the summer. So, now it was me, myself as the only attorney, Mike was there, Garrick was a law student and we thought Ken was gonna join us. We were just young. We didn't know that this guy, he was married, he had a mortgage. We had no money, how could he join us? We just were so out there we didn't, we thought he would. So we told him, "You gonna join us?" And he kind of put off the decision, and then we kinda gave him an ultimatum because we were really disappointed. I sent this long letter saying how disappointed we were. But he didn't even respond. But he still kept helping us. And then we kind of finally grew up and figured out this guy can't join us. He's in a law firm. He's gonna drop his firm to join this rag-tag outfit of misfits? So during the summertime then it was just Garrick and I, working at this thing that we started calling the Asian Law Caucus. Garrick took these papers in to get us incorporated which he did in September. Some of the students dropped by to help us occasionally over the summer. Then they came in in September to help us. Mike had finished the bar so Mike joined us in September. Ken was still helping us out all the time. He was --

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: And what were some of the cases you were handling at that time?

DM: We were handling nothing at the time except for this one woman who came in. And we had this old insurance office. And in the insurance office was a safe. Every morning this semi-crazy Chinese woman would come in, who worked next door and say, "Can I use your safe?" We go, "What for?" She goes, "It's really cool in there and I want to stick my sandwich in there." So she'd store her lunch in our safe all the time. After about three days she goes, "What do you guys do here?" We go, "We're a law firm. We give legal services." And I remember, every time she'd come in, too, a bunch of us would be in the back, we'd be playing chess. There was nothing going on. And then she'd, the door, we'd hear the ding, ding, ding, ding. Everybody's jump up and go, "A client, a client." We'd all rush to the front and probably scared the hell out of her. But then it just turned out to be her. Well, it turns out she referred us some consumer case, And then Garrick got his friend to write an article about us. Then a woman named Susan Amazol, a Filipina from, who had just quit her job at the Examiner, as a reporter, probably the first Filipino who worked there, Filipina, came, volunteered to do publicity for us. So we started getting some press.

So then we started getting these little cases, some criminal, some civil, nothing big until a guy named Barry Chan walked in the door in August, this was August or September of 1972. Barry Chan had been beaten up. Not beaten up, he got his camera smashed. He was taking pictures of the police officers who were at that time going through Chinatown yanking everybody who had a black jacket, every young Chinese American man with a black jacket and doing mass round-ups, handcuffing 'em, taking 'em down to Central Station not far away, photographing 'em, getting their fingerprints and letting 'em go. Totally unconstitutional. No probable cause, they hadn't committed any crime. They were creating a gang notebook so they could use it in the future with all the pictures. So Barry walks in and says, "I wanna sue them. They broke my camera. They took me down there." He got caught into the whole thing 'cause he was taking pictures of the police doing these unconstitutional things. So to do a lawsuit like that is totally expensive, but Barry Chan was the grandson of the Shoong family. I don't know if you ever heard of them. There's tons of books about them now. Who were related to Chiang Kai-shek, on the Shoong Foundation. Joseph Shoong who was the National Dollar Store's founder. And so we thought, whew, boy. So we asked him for a ton of money, which at that time was like ten thousand dollars. Which isn't a ton by today's standards, which we desperately needed to survive. And so, Barry brought the money in. We had to do a lawsuit and a whole series of pleadings, very complex things within two days. And we brought everybody in.

MC: So it was a civil rights lawsuit?

DM: Civil rights lawsuit against the police.

MC: Based on --

DM: An injunction to stop unconstitutional search and seizure, seizures, and arrests. And so that was the first case we worked on, was Barry Chan. And it was our first exposure to really high level federal litigation. We didn't know what we were doing but we had then enlisted the help of a Jewish guy named Dennis Roberts. He used to work for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, heavyweight guy, guy worked with Angela Davis, real lefty lawyer. But Dennis wanted to get involved. He had come back from New York. He went to Berkeley and worked all around the country and he goes, he just wanted to help us. And he was great. He gave us tons of advice and helped us. Ken helped us. A guy named Joe Morizumi, another Japanese, older Japanese American lawyer became one of our mentors. Because there weren't Japanese Americans who did civil rights work at all. There really weren't. And very few who did anything marginally progressive 'cause Japanese American lawyers had to survive. They were trying to make their own living and things so it was hard for them to do that. And so that was the first, first big case we worked. And since then, at the Caucus then we sued the attorney general for, we created this theory of group defamation because he had stuck out this, put out this criminal pamphlet, criminal bulletin saying Chinese Americans smoke opium and gamble, they're all... it was real broad strokes. Of course we got defeated totally by the first amendment. It got kicked out of court real fast. But the notion was to create enough of a controversy using the lawsuit, using it for political means to embarrass him, which is what happened. So he withdrew the bulletin. We got what we wanted, essentially.

MC: So you were using law as a type of a political education tool as opposed to just sort of winning cases for your clients?

DM: Correct. You know, I read a very influential book early on called Law Against the People. And then when I was in law school I started reading the more left radical tracks about the use of law. And one of the theses was, and it made total sense to me, is that, too many lawyers go into court, or take cases trying to be the white knight, to be the savior of this group, or these people. And all you do is win a temporary victory in court that is not enduring or lasting. The idea was, and this came though the work of organizing social welfare workers. And this one lawyer took, was talking about taking their case, and changing the law, and thinking he'd won a great victory. Then he had to leave and all of a sudden they changed the law and these people were back to where they started. So the idea was to use the law, or a legal issue, to get people organized to demand their own rights politically. You can use the law as a tool to either get a temporary victory, to preserve a temporary victory, but the whole point was really is to have the political strategy developed from the grass roots up. You don't do it, either. Because once you're gone, you can't be the leader of that group. You have to develop leadership. And I really believe that theory. I believe, I still believe that theory, that you have to use law to create more enduring political empowerment for people. And so that evolved into the whole idea of using law for education. Because that's a form of, sometimes you don't have the direct group to work with but you can at least agitate. You can educate in using the law. And you don't necessarily have to win the case.

MC: Right. So law is not the centerpiece, then, it's really one arm of a more broad political organization, political/social movement.

DM: It is.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: It is.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

DM: Another good example for the use was a tenure case I did for Don Nakanishi down at UCLA, Professor Don Nakanishi, who is now head of the, the Asian American Studies Center. And he was in School of Education and he had been denied tenure some six months ago, or four months ago. And so he came up north to ask if I'd represent him. I had done some tenure cases and very few people do that, and very few people stay doing it 'cause when you have to read stacks of single-spaced documents, some esoteric subject that you don't care about. And then you gotta fight an institution like UCLA, which has unlimited resources, it's protracted and it becomes, it's really consuming.

MC: Plus, tenure cases are hard to win.

DM: Oh, they're really hard to win.

MC: Because the subjectivity in...

DM: It's very subjective, yeah.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: Secret, subjective, there's all kinds of things about tenure cases. The short story about that is when I met with Don in the UCLA, his group of friends, I basically said, "You need political support in this case. You're gonna have to fight UCLA. So if you don't get political support, I can only stop this for a little bit." I think I have, we have a good grievance. I think we'll stop him from being kicked out of UCLA, 'cause if he gets kicked out, you don't have the symbol right there in the adversary's home to create the threat. Because you've gotta create a threat. They don't, power does not respond without a threat. And so, they were, they... and then I told them, "You have to develop your own political strategy. I can't do this for you. I could stop this but I don't have the time or energy and it's not the principled way to do it." And so Glenn Omatsu, who was a old-time organizer, was down there. And he and I knew each other from Berkeley and he picked up, he became the media guy. So he kept churning out press releases to keep people agitated and informed, and energized. Some person got ahold of student groups, another person got ahold of the alumni and they formed their own committee. And Don and I, of course, then gave 'em suggestions but we worked with all of 'em. But they did a pretty good job forming this political central committee to reach out. They had demonstrations. And eventually we won a second grievance. And that even incensed them even more because it showed what unfair was done. It was really unfair what they were doing to him.

And so, so my job was just the legal arm, the political things we were coordinating. We were coordinating with the legal things that we did, but we had to do it that way, I feel. Any time that you take on an institution, my whole point was that if you file a lawsuit, it's not a threat to them because they have more lawyers than you, more skills and it goes through the court system which is a predetermined route to a predetermined result. You can't say, "Okay, I'm gonna sue you and then I wanna take your wife." They'd... you know, the court system does not allow that. It'll allow you money damages or certain other things. If you inject political uncertainty into the equation, which is what the political parts do, if you threaten to burn the place down or sit-in the dean's office, that makes 'em crazy. 'Cause that... they don't know how to deal with that. They know how to deal with the law but they can't deal with political uncertainty. And that's where the power comes in. So that was my whole point to them. That's what you have to do. You've gotta create uncertainty here, folks. You gotta scare them some ways or they're never going to ever come around and respect you. So essentially that's what we did. Until one point we held up twenty-five million dollars of his budget in the senate, in a house subcommittee in the state legislature. And when we did that he called me the very next week. The chancellor goes, "We gotta meet." And that's when we met. A week later Don got tenure. The money got released.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MC: I don't know exactly how to ask this question, but it seems to me that that sort of, the kinds of strategies and approaches that you were using in your early law practice, seems to be at odds with some of the core values of many Asian American cultures, that is, go with the flow, don't create waves and so on and so forth. And did you ever feel any sense of contradiction as you were doing this? Or had you become so assimilated into maybe the civil rights countercultural types of social movements that you didn't really feel any stress?

DM: No, it was always scary to do something like this, 'cause you're doing, you're taking a risk. And then it's not a risk just about yourself, it's a risk of whether you're gonna be successful for your client. So you kind of feel responsible for the strategy that you develop. And the lawyer part aside, I think still, I was a little bit worried. But I think of when I was younger and crazier and they didn't have what they call Rule Eleven sanctions, which is a rule that's been enforced now that if you file something frivolous the other side can make you pay billions of dollars in attorney's fees. We could do anything we want then. So the contours of law have changed a little bit in that area and made people a little more restrained. But no, I did, I did... there were twinges, I guess. But I guess, you know what it is? If you believe in the rightness of your cause, if you believe they really screwed this guy, which I really believe, then there's no reason not to screw them back. It just seemed like a perfectly symmetrical equation that is totally acceptable to my conscience. The problem I have sometimes is, you know, if you got a client that wasn't as screwed, as totally screwed. You gotta believe in it a hundred percent to do that. Then you don't feel quite comfortable doing something to someone else. It's my own sense of justice, is what it is. So it's not susceptible of a formula, I don't think, but I think, I think in Don's case there's no question that we did whatever we could. And Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui, no question we were right.

MC: You were fueled --

DM: It was the same thing.

MC: Sure, you were fueled by a sense of righteousness about your cause.

DM: Exactly. It's wonderful to have that clarity of vision. You don't always get this in an ambiguous, gray world. And one of the first class-actions I did, the California Blue Shield case, the same thing. I knew we were right. But those cases aren't, you don't get all the time, or that often, I should say.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MC: Can you tell us a little bit about this group, the Bay Area Attorneys for Redress?

DM: Yeah, this was... when the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was created to investigate the causes of the incarceration of Japanese Americans and make recommendations, some of us thought, had an idea. We... and I can't tell you who generated it because we worked so collectively I can't, we used each other's words in speeches so I can't even attribute. But we thought what if we, we ought to put together... and this comes from the Kore-, reading the Korematsu case early on. That's the genesis for sure, in constitutional law. Because in my mind, hell, the first ten amendments, you know, the Bill of Rights, so many of those provisions were violated when the Japanese Americans were taken away. So we all, we had this idea, let's send a brief to the commission. Arguing what Bill of Rights were violated when Japanese Americans were taken away, how their constitutional rights were taken away. So we went through the Constitution laboriously and -- we assembled a group. People volunteered, people heard about us, a number of people came and they made a incredible number of suggestions about how we should be doing things and when we assigned them to do it they dropped out. So then you got, you knew who was bullshitting and who was not. We got a small group together and we went through the amendments. First amendment, yeah, it was violated right to assembly, right to petition the government for grievances. Fourth amendment, right to unreasonable searches and seizures. Sixth amendment, right to a trial, due process, and the fifth, cruel and unusual punishment. I mean, you could just go right down the thing and it's... whoa, it even blew our minds. So we did this brief and we sent one of our people, one of the group members to D.C. to present that in front of the commission. In fact, that's I think how Peter Irons first heard of us.

MC: Oh, that's interesting. So, between the beginning of your law practice and the time when you started this group, the BAAR, were you involved at all with the growing movement for reparations?

DM: Um...

MC: I mean, you had mentioned earlier that you had --

DM: No. I mean here's... let me think if I can remember this. In '72 I was with, helped with Bay Area JACL and then in '74 we wrote the memo on legislative means, went to Seattle or Portland, one of those two places, the national convention presented it. But then I'll tell you. I'll tell you what happened. I was watching this from afar. We were always presenting the resolutions and I was so busy trying to make a living at that time I paid less attention to that, or I was less active. I paid attention, I was watching what was going on. But you know, truthfully, I wasn't really very optimistic that you could ever get reparations from this country. And then, a representative from Washington sent in, put in a bill for the national NCJAR. A bill that was, was, people testified and didn't even get out of committee. But it started creating a little bit more of a buzz. People were getting restless at that time. And so when the commission started occurring, that's when we started getting involved. I think that was --

MC: And that was about the early '80s?

DM: Late '70's, early '80s, yeah.

TI: And that was Mike Lowry from the --

DM: Mike Lowry, that's who it was. He was crazy. And that was great, though. It was great. And that did get a lot of attention. That was the first bill that went in. And people were, "Oh, that'll never pass." But then it got attention so it was using law in a very educational way, which I really liked. And I thought, "Oh, this is pretty cool." And so it started getting my interest. I followed it more and more and more. And that's why when the commission got formed we got this idea of putting the brief in.

TI: But what I'm curious, too, is, so you were at the, I'm jumping back a little bit, but the Asian Law Caucus, and then the formation of your own firm.

DM: Right.

TI: I mean, so what was the connection, or how did that transition --

DM: Well, at the Caucus, I was there from '71 to '74. And the theory was to let new lawyers come in to practice community law. We should move on. It was a revolving door theory. Since that time I think that theory's been revised. It wasn't a good theory because lawyers didn't have time to get competent. Excuse me. So in '75 we left to form our own firm. Some of the originators of the Caucus. And so we started taking, just in private practice, doing whatever we could to make a living and doing a lot of criminal defense, is what we did. And then, then we got into much, as we got bigger, we did other things. So between that time, from '75 to probably 1980, what I was doing... let's see, when was that? Yeah, from'75 to '80 we were doing a number of different cases locally. We represented Wendy Yoshimura who was caught with the Symbionese Liberation Army, defending her. We did a number of political-type cases with the International Hotel that was being razed to create luxury condos that never came up. And then in '76, I think it was '76 I got a call from Denny Yasuhara, Spokane JACL, to ask me to sue Washington State for failure to have an Asian American Studies program. So we did a class-action at that time. That led to the coram nobis cases. So we were still doing much political law at that time.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

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.

<Begin Segment 24>

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.

<Begin Segment 25>

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.

<Begin Segment 26>

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.

<Begin Segment 27>

MC: Do you remember, can you tell us a little bit about your first meeting with Fred Korematsu, with your client?

DM: Yeah, the strategy we developed was, Peter said, "Fred is very shy. He feels really reluctant to do this. He's not sure whether his boss is not interested in having him, quote, 're-open these old wounds.'" So Fred was very unclear about what he was -- not unclear, he wanted to do this, but he was a little bit hesitant. So Peter said, "You know, the family is, is very, very shy. We don't want to freak them out." So the idea was for Peter and I to visit 'em at first. So we drove to San Leandro. And the vision in my mind was, of course, having read the Korematsu decision and read all the original papers, knowing that this guy had, had attempted plastic surgery. So I didn't know what this guy was gonna look like. I had no concept of what he looked like anyways. And I just hoped that I didn't spend excess attention focusing on his nose or something when I met because it might turn him off. [Laughs]

Anyway, so we knocked on the door and the guy looked like a regular Japanese Nisei guy. I couldn't see any evidence of any plastic surgery so, but he was very quiet. And Peter and I talked to him. We told him our experience and we got an unexpected ally, Kathryn Korematsu, his wife, who is a very outspoken, brilliant woman. She's really sharp, Caucasian American from South Carolina, married Fred in Detroit on the same day I was born, just about. I think it was one day earlier. Anyways, side stories, because she came into the room and when we met she goes, "Oh, I know, you're the one who did the JACL case in Spokane." So she knew who I was. "You've been very active in civil rights." And so we kind of bonded, you know, a little bit. So Peter and I talked with Fred and told him what we thought we could do and we wanted to see if he wanted to go forward. And he said, "Yes." And his children happened to be in the, come into the room and said, "Well wait. Okay, who is gonna pay for all of this? Nobody does anything for free."

MC: How old were they?

DM: They were probably in their mid-thirties.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: Probably mid-thirties. And I said, "Well, we are doing it for free. We're not charging." And he thought we had to have an angle. And he said, "Then, why are you doing this?" And we told him we think this is a really important thing to do. I told him, "My parents were put into camps. I read this decision in law school. This decision is a terrible decision. It validates the principle of racial discrimination forever. I know my parents had nothing to do with this. I think your father had to carry this burden for all these years. I think it's time we have to change all of that."

MC: Was Fred aware that his case had become a standard constitutional law case that law students studied?

DM: He had awareness of that. I don't think he knew how broadly it was studied. But I think he was aware that it was being studied. But I don't think he knew how broadly it was studied, how universally it was studied.

MC: So what do you think made him decide that he wanted to move forward with the case? At first he was ambivalent, but he ultimately decided, "Yes, I'm gonna move forward."

DM: You know, I shouldn't say "ambivalent." I think he was weighing things and, after I got to know Fred he was a very different person than I thought he was when I first met him. He's small and frail. He's soft-spoken. He's just a regular kind of person. He doesn't have the fury oratory skills as a Min Yasui had or the intellectual cerebral approaches that Gordon Hirabayashi had. He was like an everyday person. But I think Fred always, always believed that he was totally wronged. I honestly believe now that this was not a question -- I mean, clearly it wasn't for publicity. It upset his life terrifically and made him more vulnerable to losing jobs or not getting jobs. It took time away from his family. He wasn't gonna get any money out of it. I think he did it absolutely a hundred percent for the principle that this was wrong.

MC: When did he get a chance to meet with the other members of the team? So, the first meeting was with you and Peter Irons. Did he ultimately meet everybody?

DM: Yes. What happened is that the next meeting we brought everybody there and everybody got a chance to meet Fred and we talked some more. And Fred was still a little bit shy at the time. And Kathryn, of course, was talking away and you know, asking the sharpest questions. I mean, she was really smart. She's not a lawyer but she... and all these people were gathered around. Fred recounted later, he goes, "Geez, you looked like a bunch of high school kids." And he was kind of worried. But then we reassured him that we had a lot of experience. And now he tells that story in retrospect humorously, but I think he was slightly, you know, little bit worried at the time 'cause we did actually look much younger than we do, like right now in this camera.

MC: Was there someone on the team who eventually developed into being the main contact person with Fred? Or did pretty much everyone on the team keep in touch with him?

DM: Not really. Peter and I probably the most, I probably did it the most, because of my position. I was in the Bay Area.

MC: And were you designated formally as the leader of the team?

DM: No, what happened is that -- and these always become very difficult decisions, we have to decide a structure out of a mass of people, some who know each other and some don't. And basically I think because I had the most experience, my designa-, we decided that I would be coordinating attorney. I felt that you needed to coordinate among Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, 'cause at that time we decided to file in three separate jurisdictions, or three separate venues, excuse me. So we needed a coordination of this, and somebody to, one person to be the contact. So I was named, I was asked to be coordinator and the lead counsel for Fred Korematsu's local San Francisco team.

MC: Okay. And each of the other cities had a lead counsel for --

DM: Correct.

MC: -- their team.

DM: Yes, Peggy Nagae in Portland and Kathryn Bannai in Seattle.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MC: Were there any differences among the different teams, the three teams that eventually emerged?

DM: I think there were. I think there was... you know, we had a real clear idea of what we should do with this case and how it should progress. We all agreed on the initial strategy of filing first in San Francisco to see -- 'cause we had the best panel of judges, the best choices of judges there. And if we got the right judge of course then we would delay the filing in other places and then we'd go Seattle second because that would have the second best panel of judges. If we got a good judge there we'd delay Portland. If not, we'd file Portland the next day.

MC: And when you say a "good judge," what to you mean by that?

DM: We wanted a judge who was essentially sympathetic to what we were trying to say. Somebody who had, who was smart enough and had enough guts to be able to overturn a forty-year-old governmental conviction on a landmark case with arguments that have never been made before in history. So, I mean, we needed somebody who was a little bit, who was not a little bit, who was really, really tough and sharp and courageous.

MC: So would it be fair to say that your team really took the lead role in terms of all three of the cases?

DM: Well, yeah, we did. Only because, it's kinda funny how this all turned around because we took the lead role because our case was gonna go first. We had the best case. And then we had, the Korematsu case was better than the other ones only because it was decided a year-and-a-half after Hirabayashi, which gave the government a year-and-a-half to make more misconduct and more mistakes and more suppression. So we did have the best case. And so that's why you wanted to start with your strongest, because if you can create the precedent there, people have to follow in line a little bit. So in that sense, yeah, we took the lead because -- and it was a confluence of things, again. It was, we had more help than anyone else. We had a population base that was larger in terms of lawyers. We had the better case. We had the best chance of a panel of judges and so... and we had the best fundraising resources here, too. So you know, it was, wasn't, we didn't do it consciously that way, but I think we understood that those were the factors that meant that the Korematsu case had to lead this thing. What was interesting and ironic is in the end, it was the Hirabayashi case that made the most, the strongest law. Because in the end, they had to go through a full-blown trial, full-blown appeal and got a terrific decision from the court of appeals that is at a higher level than the decision that we got. And so in the end the Hirabayashi people in Seattle did more work. They did a harder case. They got, in a sense, a better result. We just got ours a year, a year-and-a-half faster.

MC: Uh-huh. It almost illustrates how indeterminate law can be. That is, if you have pretty much the same case but in three different courtrooms, slight differences can lead to different outcomes.

DM: Right.

MC: Because Min's case really never achieved the same levels that either of the other two cases did.

DM: Yeah, Min was, it was kind of ironic for Min, or difficult for him in the sense that here he was the most fury, most competent and influential spokesperson among the three coram nobis plaintiffs and yet his case kinda became a footnote, just like it was in 1943 when Hirabayashi was decided. Min's case was decided right after Gordon's and the Court said, "For the reasons that we affirmed the decision in Hirabayashi we affirm the decision of the conviction in Yasui." So Min never got his decision from the Supreme Court in 1943 or from the district court in 1982 -- or '83, excuse me. He just never got the full hearing that he deserved. And yet he never ever complained about any of that. He was out there pitching for the team as a whole. I mean, we had our differences, some huge difference once, but once we got past that the guy was the greatest.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

MC: I'd like to explore some of those differences. So, can you describe, or do you remember some of the details of why you and Min crossed swords at one point?

DM: Oh, absolutely. It was so, it's absolutely clear in my mind because it was, to me a turning point in the case. It would have been a turning point one way or another. I remember my, Don Tamaki, of the Asian Law Caucus was there and we were trying to raise money 'cause we needed to get money to finance this case. We had to pay for copying, postage, everything, and we had, I mean, we were poor lawyers. We didn't have that much. We couldn't finance it. So Don took the lead in financing. He also took the lead in handling media relations. So Don had come over to talk, and people were telling us from around the country that Min was giving these speeches about the coram nobis case, because Min was involved in redress at the time. And he was talking about how he had his own case, he goes, "We're not gonna win this case but we're doing this for educational reasons." And so, as coordinating attorney I was deputized to talk to Min and persuade him not to say it quite like that.

So I called Min up and we had never really had a conversation hardly at all. And I said, "Min," -- we used first names at least -- "this is Dale Minami." He goes -- and he could be very gruff -- he goes, "Hello, how are you?" I said, "I'm doing fine. You know, I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about some of the speeches you're giving." He goes, "Fine, what's the problem?" And I said, and Min could be very intimidating, too, 'cause he had this great voice and he was a strong, tough guy. I said, "You've been giving these speeches around the country that we're not gonna win these cases and that..." He goes, "Well we aren't." I go, "Well, let me finish, please. I think we're gonna win 'em, Min. But when you say that we're not going to, it kind of hurts our efforts to finance them." And he goes, "Well, I don't believe we're gonna win them." I said, "Well, maybe we have a difference of opinion, Min, but we really need to be able to try to finance these cases." And he goes, "Well, are you trying to, are you trying to curtail my first amendment rights?" And I said, "No, no, Min, I'm not trying to do that at all. I'm just trying to say that if you keep talking about the negative parts of it, I think we're gonna have a hard time financing." He goes, "Well, you're not my lawyer." By then, I'd had it. I said, "You're goddamned right, I'm not your [interruption] lawyer," and I hung up. And I went, oh man, what did I do? And Don was sitting there and he looks at me and he goes, "Bye-bye cases." I thought, shit, we don't have any cases anymore. I just pissed off one of our major plaintiffs. So I waited five minutes and I did the only thing I could think of doing. I called him up. And I said, "Min this is Dale Minami." He goes, "Yes?" And I said, "Min, I'm sorry I swore at you. That was totally inappropriate. It was totally unprofessional. But I still think we're gonna win these cases." And then there was a silence at the end. Nothing happened. And I'm thinking now he's even more pissed off. And he goes, "Dale, you're a real man. I'm not going to say that anymore. I'll follow whatever directions you give me." And he never mentioned it again. And he became our biggest booster. And we got together after that and laughed a little bit about it.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: We had dinner one night and, but boy, my heart was pumping 'cause I just thought we lost a main plaintiff on this. But you know, Min was one of those Niseis that if you stood up and argued and... he would respect you at least. And so that was one difference.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

DM: We had differences with the other groups. Part of the difference revolved around my leadership style. I think I, I was in such a rush, and I thought I had such a clear vision of what we should be doing that I didn't use the process correctly and plus there was a problem of distance, and there could be some gender issues, too. Because, in a sense, Kathryn used to be my law clerk, but I, of course I shouldn't have been treating like my law clerk in this context, 'cause she was a full-blown lawyer representing Gordon Hirabayashi. But I wanted to encourage the other side -- this is my perspective of doing, to seeing this as a political case, to doing publicity. Publicity is really important about this case. So we had some differences about those issues.

MC: I wonder how much of that might be style differences, too, between Seattle, which is a much more laid-back place than San Francisco.

DM: No question there were style differences. We were on the same train in San Francisco. We knew what we were gonna do politically with these cases. We had mapped it out. We knew politically how it's gonna affect redress. We knew how we were gonna use this to publicize it. We hired, had one guy specifically doing all media stuff. That was Don Tamaki. So we knew that we had an educational component that was just as important as the legal component. But we didn't, I don't think we processed it right in terms of explaining it to the other people who perhaps maybe didn't have the same concept or didn't quite understand it the same way we did.

MC: Do you think you understand where they were coming from, what their vision was, perhaps that they didn't think of law as much as a political tool?

DM: I think that's part of it but I think a large part of it, too, was, when you look at the magnitude of what they had to do in both Portland and Seattle, they had a huge, huge task with much less resources than we had. It was just enough that they, dealing with a novel issue like we had, I think it was enough for them to just keep their heads above water. They couldn't, they didn't have the luxury of thinking these other grandiose thoughts about education as much. 'Cause if they didn't do the legal work, they're out of court. And that would be the very, very worst result. So I think it was the fact that they didn't have the, partly, they didn't have as much resources as we were able to throw at the government.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

MC: Let's talk about resources a little bit. You mentioned that you took these cases without any promise of payment. You needed to do some fundraising, and, how did that come about? What did you do? Did you make a lot of money on this case?

DM: Tons. [Laughs]. That's why I'm retired now. It's just like as if I worked at Microsoft or something. Oh, wait. [Laughs]. No, we... Don was in charge of that. And what Don did is because we had to do this in secret, we didn't want the government to know anything about this, and we also didn't want the JACL or other groups to know about it. We didn't quite trust -- even though they were our friends who were working there -- we didn't trust everybody in JACL so we couldn't let them know exactly everything we were doing because I don't think they wanted us, really wanted us to go through with this. So since we didn't sense they were supportive, we felt that we needed to try to do things a little more covertly.

MC: Can I explore a little bit about why some people in those organizations might not have wanted to move forward with the case?

DM: Well, I think it was clearly they thought we were gonna lose it. And that would have set the redress movement back. It was the purest of motives, absolutely. It was a just a difference, a disagreement. And I think they were doing it in the best interests of Japanese Americans. But see, we couldn't have a dialogue because we didn't want to reveal all the evidence we had, which was so strong. We wouldn't reveal it so they couldn't, they didn't know everything that we had, so they couldn't make an assessment, so they had to presume certain things. So...

MC: So, you tried to raise money --

DM: Oh, so --

MC: -- about a case that was secret?

DM: Yeah. So Don called up, like he made a list of like twenty-five people and said -- and he's just brilliant at doing things like this. He does most all of our business work now, so I mean before, he -- plus, he does civil rights cases, but this is what he does. But, he says to them, "We have a case that is gonna challenge the internment. We can't tell you what the evidence is, but we'd like you to make a donation. Can you give us five hundred or a thousand dollars just to start the case off?" And he raised it in like two weeks. There were enough people out there, Japanese Americans, who were, had enough money, who were, knew us well enough, and who were ticked off enough about the internment, that it just came, he raised it in a nanosecond.

MC: So they were private donations?

DM: Private donations. That's all we ever got, though, was private donations.

MC: And were there any big sums among those different donations?

DM: I seem to remember, I think the largest one was we got was maybe five thousand dollars, which is substantial for a non-deductible donation. 'Cause it was. It was just for a cause and not a charity.

MC: What would be the typical amount, though?

DM: You know, I can't tell you this. I think Don would be better. He's an interesting person to interview sometime because he's done a trillion things in his life. But he... we then took our show on the road. We took Fred around, we'd drive Fred around. Fred, whom we told that, "Oh, don't worry. You won't have to do any publicity 'cause you're so shy. We don't want people camping on your doorstep. You won't have to do interviews. Don't worry about it, we'll protect you." And then the next thing we're knowing, we said, "Fred, can you do this interview? Fred, 60 Minutes called. Fred, can you come to L.A. with us? Fred, can you..." and he did everything. He never said, "No." And so, having Fred there -- which was kind of interesting, because people didn't know how to react to him. The Nisei didn't know how to react to him. Because here was a guy that they probably despised, or did not like during the camp days. Because his case validated what happened. Not understanding the full story of the courage that it took to take the case, or do the case. And yet, when we told them the evidence, there really was... I could see a huge dramatic change over the years, and even during the course of hours of a meeting, from goat to hero, the guy became a hero. And he is now. When people, when you see him around, people just adore him and respect him for what he did. And it's partly because of the cases, but a large part of it had to do with the media coverage of Fred, through the movies that were done about him, too.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MC: How did your coram nobis litigation effort intersect with some of the other redress efforts, especially in the early part of the litigation where you were keeping things secret? Did you, since you were the team coordinator, did you explicitly go out and try to work with some of the other redress groups?

DM: No we didn't. We, we did work in a different way with NCJAR because the people who provided some of the evidence, Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig was providing evidence to NCJAR so she was doing it for both of us, and we knew about each other's lawsuits and we kinda kept tabs with each other.

MC: And NCJAR is the National Coalition --

DM: Yes.

MC: -- for Japanese American Redress?

DM: Right. And they had filed a lawsuit for damages for violation of constitutional rights, for monetary damages. We didn't do that in our case because, one, the law didn't really allow for it although you could probably stretch a theory. But number two, we really wanted to keep this perfectly clean. We don't want anybody to impute a motive to Fred Korematsu or Gordon or any of these folks.

MC: Well, once you involve money in a lawsuit people get somewhat cynical --

DM: Sure.

MC: -- about the reason for filing it.

DM: Right.

MC: And (Aiko) is the same person, she was involved with NCJAR, but she was the same person who actually discovered a lot of these documents you used in your case?

DM: Yes, she did. Aiko discovered one of the key, probably the key piece of evidence for the Hirabayashi case.

MC: Which was?

DM: Which was a report by General DeWitt, who had written a report justifying the internment of Japanese Americans that somehow got to the Supreme Court through real, real sub rosa means. It was done not in the usual course of how litigation occurs and even some of the Justices commented about it, slightly about his report. But it was the official justification of the government. What Aiko found in a, miraculously so, was that some words had been changed from the original DeWitt report. And the copies of that report, the original report, were theoretically all burned to destroy evidence of that change. And the change was a major one. It changed the justification from saying essentially, "Well, we can't tell" -- they say the sheep from the goats, "We can't tell which Japanese Americans are loyal or disloyal." He's implying that they're so inscrutable. That was changed to say, "Well, we don't have enough time to make that distinction." And that became a critical issue in the Supreme Court decision. And so Aiko found that the court, the report had been altered and the original ones had been destroyed.

MC: And the original one also implied that there was, in fact, time to determine --

DM: Correct.

MC: -- "the sheep from the goats," but that there was just no way to do it.

DM: It didn't imply, it said, "It's not that there's not a matter of time to determine, it's that we cannot distinguish, tell the sheep from the goats." You're totally right. So it did say that there was enough time, it just, they're too, they're too inscrutable.

MC: So, she was in touch with you, then, during the course of your litigation? Was she the sort of point person --

DM: Right.

MC: -- for that group?

DM: She, and Peter was, too. Peter worked closely with William Hohri. So everybody had their kind of own connections. I was trying to work with the different teams. Lori Bannai was doing the document control, watching over the, figuring out what documents we needed, and handling that. Peter was dealing with NCJAR and also with opposing counsel. We both did it at different times. Bob and Karen were in the center of the research with Dennis Hayashi, and Don was doing the fundraising and media work.

MC: And so did you coordinate your litigation efforts at all with the case for damages, or were they really two separate lawsuits?

DM: We didn't really coordinate it. They were planning to file but their case was so massive they couldn't do it until after us. But any doc-, we agreed to exchange documents. Whatever documents we got we traded off. So we were supportive of each other. And at that time, of course, there were other redress groups and it was, they were not fighting each other, but very critical of each other behind closed doors. Lots of people were critical of NCJAR. It was our position that anything that moves us forward and closer to the goal of getting redress is necessary to support. And no question in my mind, NCJAR's suit was a major factor, a really important factor in the whole redress movement.

MC: So in your opinion, whether or not the suit for damages was won or lost, politically it had a lot of impact.

DM: Well, it depended on when it was won or lost. I mean, one, it had impact anyway, just by education. But two, as long as they posed a threat that they might get us forty billion dollars or something like that... you know, Congress has to take a little bit of note of that. I totally believe that strategy was a good strategy.

MC: That's interesting because the same thing is going on right now with pending complaints for African American redress.

DM: Reparations, uh-huh.

MC: And it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. So, let's move on a little bit to questions of strategy, legal strategy.

DM: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

MC: There were lots of different decision points along the way and... can you recall any very significant decisions that were made? For example, how did you decide to react publicly to the letter that Justice Goldberg had sent to Judge Marutani and that was eventually published in the Pacific Citizen? Or how did you deal with the offer of a pardon by the government to your client, Fred Korematsu?

DM: Yeah, there were, you know, we all did these things collectively within our Korematsu group. But you know, sometimes, and I can't remember how much we consulted with the Portland or Seattle groups. My feeling is that Karen and Bob later became more in touch with them. But our, we didn't want to react to Justice Goldberg. There was no reason to. We thought our... what we said is, "Once we file our complaint with the petition and the documents, then we're gonna hold this huge press conference, then everybody's gonna know what we got." So we weren't even worried about that. We didn't need to react to that. As far as the strategy, and one of the important legal strategies that was important was to decide whether we were gonna file three separate cases, or try to file one consolidated case in the Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. All the law said we had to file three separate cases, but there was some law that we could have made, some argument we could have made for another venue. We decided we wanted three separate cases because we had three bites at the apple. We had three shots at creating a conflict. Even if we lost two of 'em and won one or won two and lost one, we, then our case goes to the Ninth Circuit, the next intermediate level on the way to the possible Supreme Court. So we knew the Supreme Court was conservative, so it was crazy to file there, make a big splash, lose your case, look terrible. Or really do it wisely and patiently and file three separate cases and increases your chances of winning, which is what we did.

MC: Because technically speaking, a writ of coram nobis is an original writ that can be filed in any level of the federal court system, right?

DM: It could be, but you're supposed to go to the venue of... you know, that's... I think it's a little unclear. You can go to the venue of conviction is what our research eventually concluded was the safest way to do it.

MC: Okay.

DM: And then at some point you asked about the pardon. The opposing counsel, Victor Stone, called me up and said, "You know, we're interested in offering Fred a pardon. We've talked to the federal pardons office and would you be interested?" So we did the research. And we discovered that the pardon doesn't absolve you of the guilt. It just absolves you of the punishment. Well, there was no punishment. Fred had a suspended sentence although theoretically he could be denied certain licenses and jobs because of his conviction that the pardon would wipe clean. We talked about it and we thought, "That's nothing. As long as guilt's involved we're not gonna accept it." So we rejected it. When Victor Stone, the government's attorney, called me back about a week later, ten days later, says, "Okay, we'd like to offer him a pardon for innocence." I told him why we couldn't accept a pardon. "It doesn't absolve him." He goes, "We'll offer him a pardon of innocence." I go, "What's that?" He goes, "Well, we just invented it. It's a pardon that absolves him of his guilt, and the punishment." I go, "Well, that's a better step, let me talk to Fred." So we went over to Fred's house, several of us, and we told Fred what this was all about, that there's a chance like, we had to tell him as clients, as lawyer/clients, we just had to tell him, "There is a chance you can lose this case. It's possible. But we've got a great judge, the best judge we can get. We think we're gonna win it." And Fred and Kathryn together just kinda said, "You know, we're not gonna accept any pardon. We should be pardoning the government." And right then it just like, whoa. We got some really good clients here. They had the real -- 'cause we didn't want them to accept it, secretly, but we didn't want to be too negative about it, too manipulative. And we thought that's exactly where we want to be. We want to get a hearing on this. We want to go to trial on this and prove to the world that there was no military necessity.

TI: Dale, after you filed the petition and went public, what was the reaction of the JACL?

DM: Muted. They didn't comment on it but they did -- and this is my best recollection, is they were supportive of the evidence that we had. So they were trying to say it in the nicest way. They never criticized us publicly. So we didn't have that kind of problem. And as the case progressed I got the sense that they were more and more supportive, as the case progressed. So that we didn't have a negative reaction publicly from them, except through possibly -- and this is not confirmed -- but through Arthur Goldberg.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

MC: Now you mentioned that 60 Minutes was interested in doing a story. What was the national media attention once you, once you filed the petition?

DM: Well, there was, before we filed the petition there was none. Don called up all the bureaus and said, "We have this case involving fraud on the Supreme Court, involving the imprisonment of Japanese Americans." And they would say, "You mean, you mean the prisoners from Japan?" And he'd go, "No, no. These were Japanese Americans who were taken from their homes." He goes, "Oh, you mean war criminals?" He goes, "No, no." These people did not understand. They had no inkling of what happened to Japanese Americans. And it took Don a long time to explain.

So when we did our first press conference Don called ABC and told them, and tried to explain to them and they said, "Well, we're not interested." Called NBC; they're not interested. By now he's really ticked. And he calls CBS and he goes, "You know we have this press conference tomorrow. All the major news are gonna be there, ABC's gonna be there, NBC" -- he's lying now. And they go, "Oh, okay, we'll send a crew." And then he calls up ABC and he goes, "I just thought I'd let you know, CBS and NBC are gonna cover this." "Oh, we'll send a crew." He got everybody there. He lied to everybody and got... and it was just a real object lesson about the news. A lot of the national medias didn't get it. They really didn't get it. There were a few people who got it. A New York Times reporter was just totally on top of it and understood it. Well, you know how that could be in terms of the media. Some get it and some don't. Most people were sympathetic because of the hard... we cast it and we held... we controlled the press so tightly as far as what we'd release, who would be saying what, that it's hard for them to come to any other conclusion from seeing these documents from the government's own files saying, "We're lying to the Supreme Court." I mean, it made it, for a sexy story and it's hard to spin that any other way.

MC: Did, I've seen pictures of photographs of that press conference, and three plaintiffs are sitting -- well, not really plaintiffs, I guess --

DM: Petitioners.

MC: -- they were the petitioners, were sitting in the front row. Did they say anything?

DM: Yes. All of them said. All of them talked and, I remember that was a really moving moment because the Asian Law Caucus was doing a fundraiser and they brought in all three people for the first time. It was the same time... I think it was the same time, yeah, the 60 Minutes crew was there, because they were filming about the same time. So Fred, Gordon, and Min.

MC: So they had not met each other.

DM: The first time they met. And there's a series of pictures that are taken of them. We had a professional photographer take their picture. And the kind of interesting... I saw this, on this film that was done during the course of our case called Unfinished Business by director, guy named, filmmaker named Steve Okazaki, and he was Dennis Hayashi's friend. And he said, "Do you think we should, we could bring in my friend? He's a filmmaker. He wants to film what we're doing." So early on in the case we got, we started getting filmed, what we were doing. We didn't know whether we were gonna win or lose. We don't know what's gonna happen. We had to get waivers on the attorney/client privilege. So he's filming all this stuff all the time. He eventually got nominated for an Oscar but he didn't win 'til next year 'til he did Days of Waiting. But he's a brilliant filmmaker. Anyways, and in that, in that... I saw this just the other day. You could, he's filming people taking pictures of these guys. And there's great, just some great pictures. I don't know where those pictures went. But they were great pictures.

MC: I thought --

DM: And that's the first time they met. I remember Fred did something really funny. This is typical Fred. He went up on stage at the Asian Law Caucus, he says, "I'd like to thank the Caucasian Law Caucus for letting me come here." That's really funny. But at that press conference Fred had just come out of stomach surgery. He had a third of his stomach removed. That's why he looked so, so sick. And we said, "Fred" --

MC: Uh-huh. He does look frail.

DM: "Fred, you don't have to come. You really don't. Don't jeopardize your health." And sure enough, the dude shows up. You know, this is a man who does not want to talk, very shy, almost dying, I saw him in the hospital, almost died. And yet he shows up as sick and weak as he is. Min was himself, thumping the Constitution, saying, "My father gave me this Constitution and in the Constitution men have rights in this country." It was great showmanship. And Gordon gave a very erudite argument about... it wasn't just erudite, it was well-done, 'cause it was very personal about how he was arrested... "I was a student at the University of Washington," in his really soft-spoken way. And Fred just said, "Well, I think what they did to me was wrong." Fred was very simple 'cause he was, he wasn't prepared, really.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MC: Did you receive any negative reactions, hate mail or anything of the like after the petition was filed?

DM: You know, I'm sure we did, and I think I've blocked all out. I'm really sure we did but I don't remember.

MC: Interesting.

DM: But I, we did... none of the negative stuff seemed to have affected me as far as recollection.

MC: And during this time you were still trying to raise money, so presumably after the petition was filed and the evidence was made public it was easier to raise money.

DM: It was. That's correct. I mean, we had to raise roughly a hundred thousand dollars, probably a hundred fifty thousand dollars to finance all of this.

MC: And a lot of the legal work was done pro bono or I guess some of the documents were photocopied by people at large law firms, and then there was, there were some donations of time and resources, right?

DM: Yeah, absolutely. Hanson Bridget Marcus Vlahos in San Francisco, where Bob Rusky worked, gave terrific amounts of resources to us.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MC: So Dale, I just want to take you back to, again, being the team leader or the team coordinator a little bit. And could you describe your management style a little bit?

DM: Not really. [Laughs] You know, I think... I tended to be really efficient. So meetings were run very efficiently, I mean, you could talk and have your say but we had to reach decisions. And that's still my style as far as running meetings. My whole theory is that if you get enough really good people together and you assign each a portion of the work, give them the whole perspective of what you have to accomplish, which is kind of the Japanese way in a way, give each person a piece of that and expect that they are going to come through on time, then you don't have to do a lot of work. Or you can accomplish a lot of work really fast. So I wouldn't say it wasn't very warm and fuzzy 'cause I think I felt, and we felt the pressure of litigating this case. I think it was very democratic in terms of our Korematsu group. It was a little bit harder with, when you fold in the Portland, Seattle group because we didn't have those type of joint meetings except at the start when we decided on our initial strategy as a group, as a complete coram nobis group.

MC: So they didn't fly down regularly to participate in meetings?

DM: No. And I think that created some problems and it's just a matter of distance in a relationship, distance in time.

MC: So it sounds like you delegate a lot. In other words, you sort of see who might be best to do a particular job and let that person do it.

DM: Absolutely. I think that was very true. I mean, I knew there were people in that group with more skills than I had in certain areas. My job as I saw it was overall coordination of the case and the legal political strategy that evolved.

MC: Now, you described earlier a conflict that you had with Min, one of your clients. Can you remember, or do you want to describe in any detail conflicts that you might have had with your fellow team members at any particular points?

DM: You know, I don't remember those as well, and it's probably, I'm probably just blocking, just like before. But I remember Peggy and I had some arguments, and they were arguments over, partly it was style and partly it was perspective. And we had a disagreement and I can't quite remember the subject matter. I do remember one meeting where I did go up to Seattle and I remember meeting in Seattle and the Portland and Seattle groups were not happy with the coordination the way I coordinated it and so we then changed the structure a little bit, that we would have Karen Kai more in touch with then the Portland and Seattle groups. And, which was fine with me in the sense that Karen was part of our group and at least there was gonna be some coordination. At least we'd know what was going on. I can't quite remember the specific problem and if you refresh my recollection I might be able to.

MC: Might it be over whether... over the substantive question of whether Min should appeal the ruling because the --

DM: There was an issue of that. I, and I don't remember the specific argument. I remember my position was that Min should not appeal. It was really clear that we had won our victory publicly with the Korematsu case. Hirabayashi, there's no choice. They had to appeal. They won half of it at the trial court so now I do remember that, thank you. And I think that's where Peggy and I had our argument. I just said I don't think Min should appeal for the reason that you can't, you don't gain anything from this. You're not, you're gonna, what they're gonna do is send it back to the trial court. And if they send it back to the trial court you're gonna get the same jerk you got that sent, that told you weren't going to, that he wasn't going to make a statement of findings. If you risk a statement of findings or statement of, or findings of fact and conclusions of law, he may come up with something really terrible that cuts against what the political point is we're trying to make, the educational point. I think Peggy's point, which I really understand, is that look, Min needs to have this hearing. In a sense he did not get a hearing in the Supreme Court. He didn't get a hearing here like you did, or Gordon Hirabayashi did. You know, Min deserves the chance to get a hearing. So it was personal versus political. And to that end, I mean, and I think the way I wrote to her expressing the fact that we are going to argue because I really respected her and I respected her point of view and I respected Min a whole lot after the issue... all we'd gone through. And so I knew there was gonna, there could be a disagreement about that. And I forcefully pressed my point and she forcefully pressed hers and in the end it was the client's decision to make. And I recognize that. I just wanted them, I felt that they needed, they needed to put that in the context of the redress movement and the legal political educational victories we had already won.

MC: So they went ahead with the appeal?

DM: They did.

MC: And Min died very soon thereafter, didn't he?

DM: He did. Min died when the case was on appeal. But it was on appeal for a different reason. As I recall, it was on appeal on a procedural issue.

MC: Right, a jurisdictional issue.

DM: Yeah. So it wasn't... to me it wasn't necessary because it wasn't the substantive issue. It was a difficult issue to appeal and then it would have dragged on and on as well, but that, that was their own decision to make.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

MC: Right. Now you alluded earlier to some tensions within the team that might be due to your management style, it might be due to issues of gender. And it sounds like you've reflected upon, in the intervening years, some of the things that might have happened. Do you have any specific examples of gender-related issues that might have come up?

DM: I think they're gender-related only the way the style is... you know, I had, at that, I had a forceful style and it was, you know, I was collaborative but I was collaborative in a male way which is not the same kind of style I've seen in female leaders. And so, to that degree, that would be a gender issue. But I thought -- and I can get that way sometimes -- is that I felt I had such a clarity of vision, there were very few times in your life you get this, which doesn't mean of course it's everybody's clarity of vision, although I think everybody in my group agreed with the vision I had of what this case was about, how to present it. It was almost laid out in a roadmap for me when we first got the case and I read all the materials and I kind of absorbed what was going on in this country at the time. And I'm not saying this was some supernatural thing and I'm clairvoyant or anything like this, but the truth was so clear to me that I think I could have -- and I don't remember specifically doing this, all I remember is feeling the strength of that truth, which of course is your own truth -- and because of that my guess is that I was more impatient than I could have been about presenting an argument for my truth as opposed to just expecting people to accept it as the truth.

MC: I see. Do you... you also mentioned earlier that Kathryn Bannai had been your law clerk but now, but at that point in time she was a full-fledged lawyer working in Seattle --

DM: Right.

MC: -- and the head of the Hirabayashi team. Were there some things related to her formerly being your clerk that might have led to some sort of dynamics?

DM: I think that's kind of hard to decide, what influences how you treat somebody. Because she was younger, she was in Seattle, and there were other issues, so I can't tell what they were. I know that Kathryn and I, Kathryn's personality and mine are very, very different, we have very different personalities, whereas Lori and I are, we tended to be closer in terms of personality and perspective and outlook and sense of humor and things like that. Kathryn is different than that. So I can't, I can't really tell you that I could identify anything that had to do with the fact that she was my clerk. What is striking to me, though, and I can't, I don't understand this, and maybe it could be clarified in further interviews with others, but I keep thinking that, why did I call Kathryn? Why didn't I just call Rod? Because Rod I worked with in the JACL case, I know he was smart, competent and hard-working, okay, in Spokane JACL. I thought I had called both of them but I think I called Kathryn first, who was the lesser experienced attorney, and I'm not sure why that happened. I knew I trusted her a lot, though.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

MC: So you filed these petitions in the early '80s. Was it 1983? Or was it a little earlier than that? I can't --

DM: It was '83.

MC: '83. Okay. So by that time the Civil Rights movement --

DM: Or was it was '82? '82.

MC: '82. The petitions were filed in 1982 and by that time the Civil Rights movement had pretty much run its course and we had just elected a Republican president, Reagan. The country was beginning sort of a right-ward turn. [Ed. note: The petitions were filed on January 19, 1983, and the hearing took place on November 10, 1983.]

DM: Uh-huh.

MC: Did that larger political context have any bearing on your litigation strategies or your thoughts about whether the case might be successful?

DM: Only to a certain degree. I mean, because of, I think, the clarity of what we saw as a great, great wrong with wonderful proof to be able to prove to a court it's a great, great wrong, and prove to the American public it was a great wrong, you know, that wasn't going to change how we presented the case. It did change the way we looked at deciding whether to get to the Supreme Court or figuring out a stratagem to get to the Supreme Court. We actually, we wanted to avoid that because we didn't trust the Supreme Court at that time. So to that extent the right-ward tilt did affect that part of the legal strategy. It did, I think Don could probably even answer this better, but affect our media strategy, the way we presented the case. And we presented the case along the lines as much as the people in the redress movement presented their cases, along their lines -- which I thought was brilliant -- that this is not just a Japanese American story of Fred Korematsu, this is an American story about civil rights. That's how we cast it initially and we felt that we needed to do this. If this were perhaps in the '60s where there was more racial --

MC: Identity politics.

DM: -- consciousness and identity politics, maybe it would have been a Japanese American case. But we knew this is, had to be sold to the American public.

MC: So you stuck to that theme throughout.

DM: We did.

MC: So, can you describe a little bit about Victor Stone, the government attorney who apparently was the opponent in all three cases?

DM: Correct. You know, it's hard to divine his intentions and his mental state, and its hard for me to do pop psychology on Victor. He seemed to me to be a reaction... he reacted to everything. And he was so low -- not so low, his personality was such that he would just do what was told to him. He didn't seem to have any kind of independent viewpoint. And because there was so much confusion internally, he wasn't getting a lot of direction. So it was very difficult on him. Which made him take different positions at different times, because he was not able to make his own judgment and decisions on things. So to me he was a cipher. He was a cipher for the confusion of the policy of the Department of Justice. He did what they told him and it was just like bulldog straight ahead.

MC: What do you think was the confusion at the Justice Department about the case?

DM: I think it was hawks and doves. I think some people wanted to make peace and try to get rid of the cases. I think some people wanted to fight it to the end because they were justified in interning Japanese Americans. And so they couldn't come to a coherent policy and Victor was caught in the middle on that. And so as a result, he had to deal with us and then had to go try a case in Seattle.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

MC: So maybe we should fast-forward at this point to the hearing on the petition in Judge Patel's courtroom. And Judge Patel was a "good judge" from your perspective, right?

DM: She was our number one choice because in federal courts it's all a matter of luck and lawyers tend to ascribe, tend not to deal with luck unless of course they lose a case, then it's bad luck. But she was good luck. She was the best judge we could have gotten. One of the two best, I'd say.

MC: So she, she actually held an open hearing in court on the petition and the government had filed a motion to dismiss. Correct?

DM: Correct.

MC: And so it was really on that motion as well as your petition.

DM: Right.

MC: And so, how did you, how did you prepare for the hearing?

DM: The government didn't quite file a motion to dismiss. I think -- well, it was because they were, it was the same as a non-opposition, or that's how the court described it. So, well, it was, it was a little bit difficult because what happened is that before, the day before the hearing the judge called both lead counsel and no other attorneys, just two attorneys and her. And we were in her office in the late afternoon and she said, "Mr. Stone, what is the government's position on this case?" And he said, "Well, we're still trying to figure out, we don't think you should, we don't think we should go ahead at this time." She goes, "Mr. Stone, this is the third time I've given you a continuance," something like that. "I want you to find out what the government's positions are. Are you gonna oppose this so we can go to trial on it? Or are you gonna accept the allegations and I'm going to grant the motion, the petition." He goes, "Judge, I can't make that decision." She goes, "Mr. Stone, you have fifteen minutes to make that decision." "Judge I can't. All my superiors are at a drug conference in Houston," anti-drug conference, I should say at Houston, and so she goes, "Well, call them." So Stone went out to the hallway frantically making calls on the pay phone, the federal pay phone. I didn't even know if he had enough quarters. It was, of course, before cell phones. So Victor is out there and finally -- they give him half an hour, he comes back and goes, "Judge, I can't reach them." Then she says, "I'm gonna treat this as a non-opposition, but I want you to brief the issue of whether I should make findings tomorrow. I want you to address that tomorrow." 'Course, this is like five o'clock at night. We've got to address the issue of findings of fact, which is what we want, we know she's gonna overturn Fred's conviction. But what we need is a statement from her, a political statement as well as a legal statement of why it was wrong.

So now I'm sweating it because I'm thinking, "I gotta make an argument tonight?" So I go back to, we had a team meeting that night back to my apartment and we had this Nerf basketball set-up there and I told them what the judge said and they're happy, 'cause they know we've got Fred's conviction overturned. But I'm sweating it still 'cause I know I've gotta make an argument. So I called Bob Rusky, one of the attorneys, and we're putting together some legal authority, Ed Chen, some of these folks. They're all over at my place and they're drinking beer and they're playing Nerf ball and the Nerf ball's rolling across my notes as I'm writing them down, this is pre-computers, remember, or just about that time. And so I'm making, I finally put together an argument that I think is persuasive as to why she has to make a statement and I realized what this is all about. This is not about law. We don't have to make, cite legal cases. This is a political argument that we have to make in court because the judge is gonna do what she's gonna do no matter what. But we've gotta give her some political cover and explain why politically it's really important. So my argument was framed as a political argument and I threw in, of course, a couple of cites that Bob Rusky had gotten for me about the need for closure and other things like this, a couple, he's very much a legal scholar so there were quotes from Hamilton and Jefferson and stuff like that. And so that was, that was what the legal argument was about.

MC: Well, the transcript of your argument, I think, is reproduced in Justice Delayed, Peter Irons' --

DM: Right.

MC: -- book which has all of the documents from the coram nobis litigation. And what struck me about that argument is that it's really not a technical legal argument at all. You talk about the public interest, and why it's in the public's interest to grant the petition and make findings of fact.

DM: Correct.

MC: Could you describe that a little bit more? Is that the "eureka" you came to the night before? That...

DM: Yeah, pretty much so but it was not, it was a eureka born out of the whole soul of our case as a political case. The whole reason Korematsu got convicted was because of politics. The whole reason the appeal was upheld was because of politics, so, you know, if I were clearly, thinking more clearly at that moment it would have come to me in a second. But eventually it welled up and it occurred to me that everything we're doing here is political. This whole case is about politics, so it's only natural that the argument that I make to the judge should be about politics. So my argument was that the public interest deserved that the judge make findings of fact in conclusions of law and for the people in the audience who were interned. This was the trial that they never had. For Fred Korematsu, his interest deserves consideration. This is a man who lived with the burden for forty years of having brought the case that sent his people to camps. And for all Americans it's important to understand the civil rights implications of what this judge can do. So, I basically argued that what the opposing counsel, what the government wanted to do was let this case, let old wounds heal, as they say. Let bygones be bygones. But whose wounds need healing, I argued. Is it the wounds of the people who put Japanese Americans in camps? Or is it the Japanese Americans themselves who suffered greatly from losses of homes, broken families, lost dreams, that the government was attempting to turn what the public interest was on its head and that the true public interest is that findings of fact had to be made to put this chapter to rest. So it was something along those lines. It was longer than that.

MC: It was very powerful and very passionate and I think the government's argument was not at all along those lines.

DM: No, he, Victor, Victor was a buzz saw. He would just go to straight lines. And part of it, of course, was not his fault but part of it was the way he was as a person.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

MC: So, when you got to the courthouse the day of the hearing, the courtroom was filled, right?

DM: Correct. The judge had had us in her, we had been assigned to her ordinary courtroom but then she realized the import of what was gonna happen, how so many people were gonna be there. So she changed her courtroom to what they called the ceremonial courtroom that, that probably can handle another five hundred people. They put chairs up in the aisles, they put chairs everywhere. I had to go in early. The judge called us in early and gave Victor his last chance. [Laughs] Said, "Mr. Stone, were you able to contact your superiors? What are you gonna do?" He goes, "Well, I talked to them, Judge, but we're not, we haven't come to a conclusion." The judge says, "I'm gonna treat your non-response as an admission because I gave you enough time and here's the citation. But I want you both to argue still the issue of the statement of facts."

MC: Can we go back to the government's responses for just a second before we get to the hearing? The government had asked for continuances a couple of different times.

DM: Correct.

MC: They were trying to delay the case. Why?

DM: I think they were still fighting to decide what policy was gonna be made. See, we were on parallel tracks here with the redress bill in Congress and -- excuse me, and the findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and their recommendations. So we were on track with, our cases were going parallel to the commission's work. The government couldn't find a policy internally and they said, "Well, let's delay and wait until the commission makes its findings." So, by the time that we were in the middle of court, we're still going through discovery, we're getting documents, the Department of Justice is still trying to find out its position or determine a position on the coram nobis cases. The commission comes out with its findings saying that what was done to Japanese Americans was wrong.

Before that time, let me reel back a little bit, Victor was asking, the government was asking for all these continuances and so I hatched this plot with Peter. One of the things that always bothered me about the original Korematsu case is that there was no evidence put in about Japanese American disloyalty. There was no evidence at all. So what the Court did is use the judicial procedure called judicial notice. They, they accepted certain facts as true and that formed the basis of their conclusion that ethnic affiliations during time of war determines loyalty. It was a total bogus, sham use of that particular procedure and in fact, the author of that procedure, a woman named Nanette Dembitz, later -- secretly was the author of that -- later wrote a public article condemning the very mechanism that she had suggested. She didn't think anyone would find out. Of course, we knew because Peter did this research on that. Anyways, so I thought, "Peter, wouldn't this be incredibly ironic if we made Victor and the court take judicial notice of the commission findings?" Because we knew they were gonna be in our favor, we had, getting word. So I said, "Let's do it this way. Let's, if he asks for another continuance, we'll say, 'Your Honor, we would oppose that continuance because we have a right to get to a trial on this but it will shortcut this trial if the court, if Mr. Stone agrees to take judicial notice, you to take judicial notice of the commission's findings.'" And the judge, she was so smart, she goes, "That's not a problem is it, Mr. Stone?" And he goes, "Uh, no, Your Honor." And so the court accepted the findings of the commission then and there, which is a major, it comes up in her opinion. And so by the time the findings got done, the recommendations hadn't come out yet. And so he wanted another continuance, recommendations came down and at the very end that was it. By the time the recommendations came down he had promised the court a decision on the government's position, he didn't deliver and the judge was totally justified and therefore stating an opinion on our behalf.

MC: Did the Justice Department think that the commission was gonna come out with findings adverse to your case?

DM: I don't think so. I think there were still hawks and doves in there and it didn't matter.

MC: Right.

DM: I think they just had a hard time finding out a really clear path to policy on this. Because I think there was just two different camps in that Department of Justice at that time.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

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.

<Begin Segment 42>

MC: So, I think there were different outcomes in the Yasui case and the Hirabayashi case. But I think I'm gonna skip over those cases and sort of move on to some reflections on your part now that... we're about twenty years, twenty-some years past the, that day, the hearing --

DM: Yeah, almost, yeah, almost twenty years. I mean, this year will be twenty.

MC: So, in that interim, did you have thoughts about the case, reflections about what it meant for the community, for you as a lawyer, how it changed you?

DM: Yeah. I think, I think there's a, it's really fairly complex, I think in the sense that there has never been a case that would ever mean this much to me personally, politically or legally. This is a landmark legal case that we got to attack because it had a decision that we disagreed with, forty years later. We get to prove a novel legal theory of fraud on the Supreme Court. We get to validate or vindicate our parents who sacrificed so we could go to law school so we could learn enough skills then to turn around and be able to have the chance to vindicate our parents, which is a really interesting circle or cycle that we were able to do in this case. We were able to show through, historically, was that Japanese Americans were not a threat and there was no military necessity. So I realized at that time, in 1982 that, or '83 -- and I told Don this -- that, "You know what? We are never gonna have a case in our life that means as much significantly in so many different ways." And actually I was kinda depressed, 'cause I had done a number of class-actions, and some interesting political cases and I thought, you know, everything else is gonna be anti-climax to some degree. But it's not like that whole Tennyson theory of history where you got to go up and up and up and progress and progress and progress. It's like, you know, I have done other cases since then. But I have to admit it is a little bit harder to see your role specifically as a political litigator after a case like this.

So it's changed me a little bit that way. I've seen my role more in politics and more this, it has kind of shunted me and pushed me into a different role and that role has been to really publicize not only the case, but what the case means. Because the cases have implications for all of civil rights for the United States for every minority group or aggrieved or oppressed group in the country. So lessons of that are universal. And to that extent I've been asked to give speeches year after year after year after year. Sometimes it was a traveling road show with Fred and sometimes it wasn't but as a result it's pushed me into -- not pushed me into -- it has directed me to try to create change through education by speaking and, rather than by litigation. I think that's one change.

I think we never thought it would become this notorious, I guess, or well-known. And partly we wanted it to. That was our, that's what we thought we should try to do but I don't think we understood what that meant practically, that we would be credited for something that we thought we would pay to do anyways. So that's a little bit surprising that we would get credit for something that was so clearly an honor to be able to do and, plus, when you see things that clearly you find yourself in another state of consciousness a lot of times to the degree that you feel, you feel like you're really accomplishing something. I think it's brought me in contact, you know, Fred has changed a lot, he's become more social, he parties, we go out and he still likes to drink and have fun and we get together regularly. We made a set of really good friends that remained friends all this time. I think, but I don't, I can't see myself as an historical figure, even though I've had like, my niece goes, "Uncle Dale, we read about you in the history books." When I hear that it makes me sound really old. But I don't feel old and I don't feel that... I was only, to me, I was a part of this incredible group of people. And that was my work team, that was, it was the Portland group, it was the Seattle group, an incredible group of people who sacrificed a lot who did something miraculous as a group. And even though I, in a sense, got more attention because I was lead counsel, I feel sometimes that other folks don't get as much credit as they should because I felt that we all worked hard together. We never saw this as an individual project. So it surprises me that I think we have gotten the acclaim we have gotten for this case, and it still goes on twenty years later. Because this is a world of "what have you done for me lately," in a way, but I think in that context my role is to continue to do things, and in this case, in education about civil rights.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

MC: And your public education efforts have led to, for example, you being chair of the, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, which is the fund that Congress created at the same time that it created the reparations funding, right?

DM: Correct.

MC: So, what were some of the highlights of being chair of that group? What kinds of things did you do and how do you feel that you've furthered public education on this particular historical episode?

DM: As chair, you came in with a group of strangers -- although some of us knew each other, some of 'em were my clients, like Don Nakanishi and friends like Peggy Nagae. And we came together, but we had two years to mold a group, set up a whole administrative framework, open an office, get supplies, make up a criteria, create a forum, circulate it to the public, get applications, make judgments and give money out. It was a really difficult, difficult task. And to the degree that we were able to just pull that off I was really proud. I thought we had a terrific group. It felt like the Korematsu team again because everybody, everybody was along with the program and we got work done fast, and I think we did really quality work. And Dale Shimasaki and some of the, and Martha Watanabe in D.C. also were our staff and did a good job. I think the whole point of what we were trying to do with Korematsu, not the whole point but a major point of that and the redress movement was public education. So this is a wonderful thing to be able to give money away to great groups like the Densho Project and Race, Rights and Reparation -- [laughs] -- I'm sorry. I had to put that in. I thought it was a great, it was a great honor again to be able to give money away to people that were serious about trying to make this country remember its mistake about what it did in the internment of Japanese Americans. And to the degree that we gave all the money away, and I think we gave 'em pretty much to really good groups. I mean, there were a couple exceptions, people didn't get their projects done, but very few. I think that was -- just can say partially successful. I don't think we had enough money to be really successful. I don't think we had enough time to be really successful. I think you needed that original fifty million to be able to reach in the farthest corners of this country to get to North Carolina and teach a Congressman Coble that his remarks are ignorant and misinformed, or at least the people of that state so they won't vote him into office anymore. But we didn't have enough money and time. So I still think there's a lot of work to do, but I think under the circumstances we were able to award grants to good people and good groups who have done really wonderful things.

MC: I think one of the more poignant moments in a meeting that I attended of all the grant recipients was when some third grade students in San Francisco were arguing, doing debates about the constitutionality of the internment and that sort of original analysis of the Bill of Rights that you had done way back in the '70s were things that they were actually debating amongst themselves, these eighth grade -- eight-year-old students.

DM: That's great. It's funny, 'cause I didn't go to that conference. I tend to, I only went off and on because I had work to do and I find that once I complete a project I just move on and the results take care of themselves, and sometimes I think I feel I missed out. That was, I should have been there to see what results were going on but I figured the results would take care of themselves. I got other stuff, I gotta go on to my next job, my next project. But I think sometimes that's very short-sighted. I think that was true in that case. Just like in the Korematsu case, the coram nobis cases, one of our main goals was after we finished the litigation was to get the decisions published or known by every constitutional law professor in the country. We were gonna make a list and send it out. But we just ran out of gas. And so I moved on to my next project and that thing languished until Race Rights and Reparation was published which was exactly what we wanted it to do, to be accessible to con. law and other law professors so that they would teach the second Korematsu case and the second Hirabayashi case.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

MC: So, one thing that you alluded to earlier was the senator from North Carolina's recent remarks, I guess it was just this past week, regarding the, his view that the internment was good for the Japanese Americans who were interned because it protected them. And he, apparently he's the Chair of the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security.

DM: That's frightening.

MC: It is. So, one theme, I guess, after twenty years, is the more things change, the more they stay the same. And I was wondering whether you had any thoughts about the relationship of the work that you did then to what's going on now, post-9/11.

DM: You know, I'm kind of coming to a new realization. I mean, redress was a great victory but it clearly was not a total victory. The cases we did was a great victory but it was clearly not a total victory. And as much as you can educate people, you cannot transform everyone and there will still be people who harbor racist beliefs in this country, ignorant beliefs, despite what the evidence is, despite what the facts are. And so, what I believe is that education is important but it's not the only thing. If you don't have political power, if you don't have the power to punish a Congressman Coble for what he says, if you don't have power to punish a Senator Trent Lott, if you don't have power to make a Shaquille O'Neal feel a little uneasy, all the education in the world is not gonna help you. That's not to say you shouldn't do education, 'cause both, if you don't have the alternative education, all the political power in the world won't help you either. But I think those are the two things that I think are most important and what I've gained from doing this case and working on redress and being involved in both political and educational campaigns, is that they're both really, really important.

MC: So one thing, disturbing that's happened since 9/11 is that some people in the administration seem to be suggesting that Korematsu is good precedent still, for the notion that certain group-based classifications do not rise to the level of any sort of constitutional violation at least in times of crisis. And, so do you have any comments or thoughts on that?

DM: Yeah, I think the notion that Korematsu is good precedent has to be resisted at every turn. I don't believe Korematsu is good precedent because it's based on a foundation of fraud. If you, any law professor or any lawyer will tell you that the law emanates from the facts that are before the court. Well, the facts before the Court were false in the Supreme Court. So for the Bush administration to trot out Korematsu, dress it up in new clothes and pretend it's good law is absolute hypocrisy. I don't believe Korematsu is a good precedent for the idea that you can take racial minorities at any time without due process, without a trial, without attorneys, and put 'em in camps for an indefinite period of time, that, anybody who believes that in this country in general -- no, I should say that differently. That's a completely discredited notion. If you look at all the commentary about these cases and how poorly they were written and how much politicized they were, I feel that you're not gonna find a lot of people saying these are credible cases for that particular precedent. They're credible cases for the notion that the Court really should give strict scrutiny to racial classifications when they're used against a particular group. No question that was a good idea even though the Court failed to apply that in those cases, of the Korematsu and Hirabayashi case. So my feeling is that precedential value is based a large part on not just the logic of the case, it's the on the coherent application of the particular law to the facts and there's moral components to precedent... is, are some of the early slavery cases, Dred Scott. Is that good precedent?

MC: Well, that's interesting because Justice Goldberg's letter that was written actually to dissuade the team from pursuing the coram nobis litigation stated that his view was that Korematsu was a thoroughly discredited decision which ranked along with Dred Scott as one of the most reviled opinions of the Supreme Court.

DM: [Laughs] Yeah.

MC: And so, at least he thought, as a former sitting justice of the Supreme Court that it really should not be given any weight whatsoever.

DM: Right.

MC: And yet, what we're hearing right now is government attorneys making the argument that it was, it still is good precedent.

DM: Yeah, I think that has to be challenged. I think Goldberg might have said that for another reason to say, and part of his argument was, don't mess with these cases, guys or folks because it's already, this is already a dead deal. Korematsu and Hirabayashi are dead but no, they weren't. They're like Friday the 13th, Freddy comes back again. These cases come back again all the time even though their, their logic is flawed, even though they're hypocritical cases, even though they've been discredited, even though they rest on a foundation of fraud, and that's why education will only take us so far. Because I could make this argument and I can argue with anybody about how discredited they are, but unless we have enough political power to stop the Bush administration from using these cases and enforcing them in real life by interning people, then all the education in the world we have will not do anything.

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

MC: So we're sort of reaching the end now, I think, of our interview...

TI: Yeah, I actually, I wanted to kind of finish up with some of your, again, reflections personally. And Dale, you're a very positive person, and you've talked about, in your reflections, the positive things that have happened to you, and the people that worked with it. But you put an incredible amount of time, your personal time into this. And I was wondering, were there sacrifices that you had to make in your personal life or your career to do what you do, and what are those things?

DM: You know, it's hard to define them as sacrifices. I mean, we didn't make very much money when we were doing these cases but to me, that wasn't really a sacrifice because we had enough to eat and we were able to pay the rent. Our careers probably didn't develop as fast 'cause we spent so much time on these cases, but on the other hand these cases gave back to us in so many other ways. I mean, how much do you pay for fulfillment of the soul? That's, you can't put a price on that. So I guess I don't even consider that as a sacrifice. And I'm honestly trying to figure something negative about this, that occurred because of this. I think one thing that happened is that we get tons of calls from people who want us to take the, their landmark case that involves them personally for free because we must make our living doing free cases, 'cause we did Korematsu. So we get a lot of flakoes calling us up because a lot of those are really flaky kind of cases. Or they usually send us letters saying, "You're the only one who could handle this type of case," or... [laughs] you see this kind of pattern repeated. But that's a small price to pay. Yeah, if you think about it, yeah, I did probably, I could have made more money, I could have gotten a nicer car earlier, I could have got better clothes, but those things were just not so significant, I guess, at the time, and things turned out pretty well as it is. And I think it's maybe because I am a positive person. I do look for the positive side of things.


TI: Okay, so, to end this interview, Dale, is there anything that you'd like to end with for this interview?

DM: One thing I've learned about these cases -- and it's not just these cases, but I think it's from, from my experience -- is the importance of history. I've always felt that people need to understand history not only just to understand the present and the future, but it helps place them in the flow of history. Helps them determine what their identity is. And the analogy I would use is like history is like, learning history is like climbing a mountain, for Asian Pacific Americans by getting, when you get halfway up the mountain you could look down and look back and you could see the paths blazed by African Americans and Latino and Latina Americans, Native Americans who took this inspired journey to civil rights, and led the path up that mountain for Asian Pacific Americans to follow. And to them we owe a debt, and that's a debt we know we owe because we know history. But from halfway up the mountain, you can also look up and see how far, how much further you have to go and that's why history provides you with that guide to be able to look up and know that, okay, we have not reached the mountaintop of equality. There's still a way to go but to understand that there are people traveling the same path with us is something that history gives us and something that we should know forever because it then not only inspires us but helps us develop practical political strategy.

I feel like if you could place yourself in that flow of history, see what has happened before you, where your parents and grandparents have done, I think you're gonna better not only understand yourself but you're gonna understand that you're part, not of just -- you're not just an individual alone, you're part of an evolving, developing, growing, community. And the more you understand that, you understand that you gain strengths that you wouldn't have if you didn't understand your part in that flow of history, as I call it.

So I think I would end with people, with, to admonish people or hope that people understand that, how important history is. Because in your own history somewhere, someone has done something for you to allow you to get to this point. And if you understand that's where you are, then you understand that you have a parallel obligation to help somebody who comes after you and I think, to me, that's the symmetry. It's kind of closing the loop of history and, I don't want to get too religious or spiritual about this, but it creates a symmetry that seems to at least make me feel much more at peace, knowing that someone has helped me before, many people have helped me before. And by helping people who come after me, I feel not just a kinship to my past but I feel a relationship to my future and it makes me feel much, much stronger and much more whole.

TI: Great, thank you.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.