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-01-0014

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LB: You told me some about the legal team and the members of the team. Can you tell me something about the working relationship and the team? The meetings, how people related to each other.

EY: It was a really wonderful, amazing group. There was probably about a dozen, if I recall. And what was really great is everybody was really... it was two things. People were really professional. Like, "We got a job to do and we got to really be thoughtful and hardnosed and make judgment calls." And at the same time, it was like, "But we're friends and colleagues and we can joke around, and at the right moment, make fun of each other and support each other." So it was this wonderful dynamic that was such a wonderful thing to be in right at the very beginning. And like I said, it was intense because everybody was doing their regular work. And through part of it, then, I think your office was moving, right? So on top of everything, trying to move office. And so all of this stuff was happening so it was a very intense atmosphere, but at the same time, it was so collegial and so warm and so communal.

And so what I remember is in one meeting early on, and people were discussing something, I don't even remember what it was specifically. And I had a slightly different view, and so I said, "Well, I think this," and there was a lot of good discussion. And then at the end I said, "Well, I don't know if I've changed my view." And I thought, "Why don't we just go forward?" And then I forgot who it was, might have been Dennis Hayashi or somebody said, "Well, you know, we don't go forward if people really feel in disagreement. We need to keep talking about it 'til there's consensus." And so I realized, oh, you know, that really is important and is part of this really important dynamic process, which is actually really different from a law firm. 'Cause in a law firm, you say what you want to say, you get outvoted, and you're a little, "Aw," but you go on. But this was different. And so it helped me understand. We could talk it through a little more, then I realized, okay, I'm okay with this, and so there could be consensus. But the process was to make sure everybody's input not only was heard, but everybody personally felt like we've been heard, and this actually is the right decision for the group. So that was very significant.

And I will say that in one way, everybody seemed equal and very collegial. And I will say that I had tremendous respect for three people in particular who, to me, rose above as leaders. And one was Dale. And Dale was so good at articulating what needed to happen, and so good at setting forth kind of a larger agenda. If we do this, then we have to do that, and let's do these things. And being inclusive, but also being willing to kind of stand up at times when we needed to be.

The second person I thought was a really tremendous leader was Don Tamaki. Don was just magnificent at orchestrating the public education aspects of this program, of the legal team's work. And that was so significant because this case -- as Lori has eloquently said in the Densho project interviews that we've put into our Japanese American internment book -- that this case was being tried not only in the court of law, but also in the court of public opinion. And that was tremendously significant. Because the court of opinion mattered in terms of how Japanese Americans were going to be viewed, regardless of what the outcome and the specific coram nobis litigation turned out to be. And equally important, there was a redress movement that had started, that had gained strength as part of the Asian American movement, ethnic studies movement, but that had kind of stalled because it ran right into the obstacle of people saying, "Sure, historically it was bad, it was wrong, we know that now." But they didn't know that then, and the Supreme Court had validated the law. It was legal. And so to try this case in the court of public opinion was so important because it was a way to re-galvanize the redress movement, and it was to sort of shake out this whole notion that it was legal and that it was fine. So it at least exposed why it was so seemingly wrong in legal terms as well as human terms, became so significant. And Don Tamaki was just, just magnificent at doing that. And because I wasn't working at any other job, I got tapped sort of before and after to do some speaking, so I was on the radio. I recall going to Golden Gate and Hall, later on to Stanford University and to speak about the case and whatnot. That became a very significant thing, to reach these audiences in small ways while Don was orchestrating a national media campaign. So it was really opening my eyes to the significance and political lawyering of the political piece as a public education piece.

And the third person that really was a leader was you, Lori. And again, almost fresh out of, relatively fresh out of law school, and it was important in a lot of ways. There was a strong male presence in the coram nobis litigation work, which is probably reflected in, sort of, the legal community at that time. There were not nearly as many women. And so you were a very strong and important guiding light as an Asian American woman, as a new lawyer, who clearly combined the intellectual ability and the legal skills, but also the people skills. And that was a really... I don't think I've ever told you this, but you really, you were so critical to making this thing move forward every day and to really moving it forward in a very positive way. So I think the legal team was equals and it felt like that, but there really were three leaders.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.