Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eric K. Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Eric K. Yamamoto
Interviewer: Lorraine Bannai
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-yeric-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

LB: Tell me how you first found out about the coram nobis cases, what you thought about the prospect of reopening the cases and how you got involved.

EY: As usual, it was sort of a roundabout way that turned out, actually, to be very wonderful for me. It was either Dale or Leigh-Ann Miyasato who sent me a full stack of a draft, a near-finished draft. So everyone else had been, the team had been working on it, researching it, talking about it, making decisions, writing it up.

LB: The draft of the petition.

EY: The petition, excuse me, the petition and exhibits. And I was not a part of any of that. But it was still a draft, they said, "Take a look at it. And so I was blown away by it. It was just so amazing. And I did give a little bit of feedback, but essentially, it was a wonderful, polished project. Which started me thinking, "Wow, this is great." And these are the people that I worked with, went to school with Leigh-Ann Miyasato, and there was Dale and Don Tamaki, my idols. And so it just sort of made me think, "Wow, wouldn't this be wonderful?"

And then what happened -- this is how everything ties together -- my dad retired after thirty-three years of teaching. And as I mentioned, because our family never had money, compared to his peers who actually had done well financially, my dad's one dream that had never been fulfilled during his whole entire working life was to go to Las Vegas. That's the big thing for Hawaii people, and people go all the time, his peers would go all the time and take their families all around. And we never went; he never went. He just felt like he couldn't quite afford it. So he had just retired, and I told him, "Hey, your retirement present, I'm taking you to Las Vegas. So we went. And this is probably the nerdy part of me, me and my dad. We love to gamble and play poker. I grew up playing poker with my relatives every Sunday. So we get to Las Vegas, in this modest California Hotel, and we're sitting in the room. And what do I bring with me? I bring the whole petition. I'd read it once, I wanted to read it again. And so my dad, of course, he sits, and he and I, for two days, all day during the days, both of us, we read the whole thing. Every page, every exhibit again. So for me, it was the first time reading it really carefully. And my dad is reading it with me. We'd break it up into pieces, you know, it was so fat, right? Take it apart and read it and talk about it. And at the end of two days, my dad is like, "Do you know what this is?" And so we just went at it. And I realized, "Oh, my gosh, this is what I want to do." And so we gambled at night, and we read this Petition for writ of error coram nobis in the days, two days. So we come back, and I had given some feedback to Dale or whatnot.

By this time, things rocked along, and Judge Patel was treating the case as a civil case, and discovery had just started, and a whole bunch of documents were coming over from the government. And I know that one approach that was being thought of to organize the documents was to use a computer system, and to have those documents analyzed and inputted. And that's one of the things that I did, big case. And so I was -- I don't remember the timing of this, and might be a little bit off. But I was on vacation, so I came to the Bay Area as I did, and I remember Leigh-Ann say, "We're just starting up this thing and we have this sheet, can you take a look at it? Maybe you want to help code some documents." And I remember her telling me that, "We have some, a bunch of law students and undergraduate students who are going to be coding these documents." I said, "Sure." So I got a stack and on my vacation, sat at a coffee shop and started to go through them, trying to be helpful. And then I realized that, oh, my goodness. For all the wonderful effort and thought that's gone into this, that the way it's set up is probably not gonna yield the results. Because I know that when we did stuff like that, the quality control, we so rigorously trained the people doing the analysis and inputting, and we oversaw it, two levels, every single piece of every paper that was analyzed, what was going into the computer to make it work right. And so I thought, "Wow, this is going to be a lot of effort, and it might not yield the results, even though it was a really smart thing to do. So after that I went back and I took it upon myself just to write up a different way to handle it that might simplify the process, and yield better results given all the time and effort. And I knew that everybody else on the team was working their regular jobs full-time and then doing this at nights, on the weekends. And I remember talking to you, Lori, when I had come by on that trip, and the excitement and the level of commitment, but also the level of juggling regular, ordinary work, trying to make a living. And you folks were still in the Oakland office, I remember, and then trying to do all of this stuff at the same time, and it was somewhat overwhelming.

And so I wrote, I remember, an eight-page single-spaced thing about what I thought some of the difficulties with the current system were and some of the, alternative way to simplify and handle the system, actually, outside of the computer process. And so I remember then very shortly after, getting a call from Dale and saying, "Hey, we looked at the stuff and we're thinking about it, and we could really, there's something you could do. Can you help out?" And I think he meant to help out the team from Hawaii or come by part of the time. And that was right at the time I was thinking, "I don't want to be partner at the firm." So it was like a divine intervention, or something really putting the pieces together saying, "Look, here's what you're meant to do now." And so I had purposefully not encumbered a big mortgage or expensive car and things, I was very mobile. I paid off my student loans, and I had saved a little bit of money, and so it just made perfect sense.

So I did tell the firm, "I resign," and I did tell Dale, "I will come up if it's okay to join you folks. You folks have already done all this great work, but I can contribute something." And I'm also very good at research and evidence, 'cause I've done a lot of trial work in these big cases. So it turns out that that's one of the things I worked on. And my firm was very wonderful. So Dan Case, again, called me into his office. I'd written a letter telling the firm how much I appreciated them and I was resigning. And he said, "Well," he said, "I think you think I'm gonna ask you to stay." He said, "I'm not." He said, "We really want you here, and we want you to know the door's open for you to come back." But he said, "There are too many attorneys who don't do what they really feel passionately about. And whether it's for financial reasons or family or they can't see what else they want, they just stay at something that they're not entirely happy with. And then ten, fifteen years down the road, they're very unhappy." So he said, "But we do. I support you, we support you. Do and do it well. Do it so that it really is something that you feel proud about and makes a contribution. So hopefully, we hope you'll come back to us, but if not, that's okay, too." And that was the best thing I could possibly hear. Then he said -- this is the wonderful thing about him -- he said, "You know, you're gonna need some support for this, too. Partly because you might want to come back to us, we want you to think well of us, but partly because you just need support." He said, "We'll pay your health insurance and your benefits and all this stuff for a whole another year." And I hadn't even thought about it, that I'm gonna need all that stuff. I said, "Dan, that's wonderful, but I'm not likely to come back. This is not what I want to do. As much as I love doing it right now, it's not what I want to do for my life's work." He said, "That's okay." And so they did it for one year. I was still here in the Bay Area working on the case, the aftermath of the case. And I said, "I'm not ready," they extended it for six more months, and it was a very wonderful thing. So that's how I got involved.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.