Densho Digital Archive
Steven Okazaki Collection
Title: Dale Minami Interview I
Narrator: Dale Minami
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 4, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-02

<Begin Segment 1>

DM: What happened first was I received a call from the Office of the Attorney General of the State of California. They had been interested in filing an amicus brief on our behalf, and one of my friends there contacted me and told me that the attorney general for the state of California had received word from Washington D.C., the U.S. attorney's office there, who was handling the case for the United States, that the government was conceding the case, and that they did not intend to push the case any further. Frantically for the next hour we searched around for confirmation of that. Coincidentally, I received a call about half an hour later from a friend of mine in Los Angeles who works with channel 2, I believe. He told me that he had confirmed that independently through the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C. So at that point we're about 75% happy, since nobody contacted me directly. And it was not until early afternoon I received word from the U.S. attorney's office directly that they had in fact moved to vacate the conviction, moved to dismiss the indictment, which basically was most of the ballgame.

Q: So you are pleased with the decision?

DM: We're pleased with the fact that they are moving to vacate. We're pleased with the fact that they are in a sense capitulating to the allegations we made in the petition. We have yet to review their response. There are things in there that we don't perhaps agree with as far as how they cast the motion to vacate, as an act of generosity from the government. We don't believe that. We believe they were forced to do it.

Q: For what reasons? What's your reaction to what they did and why did they do that? Why did the government make that motion?

DM: My analysis, and our analysis of our work group is that the government had nothing to gain out of these cases. They had a weak case legally, we had a strong case. And politically, the kind of defense they would have to put together would not only look ridiculous in the eyes of the public as far as trying to justify a racist such as General DeWitt, by claiming, no, he wasn't really a racist, and what he did really had some reasonable basis. Those types of defenses that they would have to raise which in fact have been repudiated over the course of history now, and especially with the findings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, would make them politically look very, I think, ludicrous in the eyes of the public. So both politically and legally they had, I would say, a weak case, and they had almost nothing to gain and everything to lose. From that point of view I think they had to make a decision.


DM: On one hand I'm very happy. I'm happy for Fred Korematsu, who has in a sense waged a lonely battle over forty years to clear his name, clear his record. I'm happy that in a sense the government has recognized that the decision that sent Fred Korematsu to jail and vindicated or sanctioned the removal of 110,000 Japanese Americans during World War II has been undercut by the government's, in a sense, admission that something was wrong in his trial and his appeal. On the other hand I think, I'm little bit disappointed in the sense that we had the best of all possible worlds in this case. We had a case where we had smoking guns; we had documents that proved the government was lying; we had evidence that the government knew the Japanese Americans were no danger; we had evidence that the government conducted tremendous misconduct during the course of the trial and appeals. And because of that I was really looking forward to doing a trial on this case. We felt we had an excellent chance, we had an excellent judge, and it's rare that the combination of good facts, good judge, good client, good work team, good political climate all converge. And so when you have those chances, boy, you really want to go for it. You really want to make that presentation at trial because you know you have a really good shot of getting a finding by a court, rather than just an admission by the government.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

Q: What are your major concerns now? I mean, where to take this?

DM: At this point, as of today, we have not decided what to do with this. We have a motion which the government is making to dismiss the case, we have the right to respond to that. We're trying to decide probably later today or by tomorrow what we're going to do with that. After that, we have other options as far as possibly bringing a lawsuit on behalf of Fred to recover damages. There are some statutes that allow us to get up to $5,000 damages for wrongful imprisonment. That's one of the options we're considering, but of course a lot of it depends on what Fred wants to do, as his lawyers.

Q: Can you do anything more about the issue of the evidence being, all your evidence of suppression and everything, now that it's kind of dismissed, is it dismissed from your point of view, or is it still important?


DM: I think the evidence we produced is very important historically to set the record straight. I think the evidence brought forward by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians really punches a huge hole in the government's handling of the Japanese Americans, and I think what we've done with the documents we have is taken that further to show that the legal cases were manufactured and manipulated. I think the historical record needs to be set straight on that, and I think what we intend to do with that is either publish or present perhaps even a mock trial, raising the issues and acting as if we were in a trial to be able to, as an educational device, show the kind of evidence we did have. There is coincidentally a case out of Washington, D.C. where a group called NCJAR is bringing a similar action for damages -- or not a similar one -- action for damages based on similar facts, and so they will raise all this evidence in their case, I'm sure, if they get a chance to go to trial on it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

Q: Can you say something about the reaction of the media?

DM: The reaction I received from the media, in talking to the media today and in the past has been fairly surprising to me. Not having had that much experience with the media, it was interesting that nearly all the reporters we talked to were very sympathetic, and the way they wrote the story was sympathetic. I think they seem to agree, the people we talked to seem to agree that what was done to Japanese Americans, what was done specifically to Fred Korematsu, was a great wrong. And to that degree we had more "congratulations" and "way to gos" and "we appreciate what you did," from the press, and I think that's surprising to me, you know, because you always believe the press is objective, or they're supposed to be objective, and yet they're human, too. And to see that response doesn't mean they're any less objective, because, you know, the stories that get written up don't necessarily mean that they just side with us and against the government. But just in their personal reactions was very supportive, and that was pleasant. It was nice to hear.

Q: Any hostile reactions?

DM: Not so much from the press. We've had similar reactions to our case that the Japanese redress effort had, and the NCJAR suit had, which is, you know, the basic ignorant mind: "Well, Japan was the one who bombed Pearl Harbor, so we were justified in putting the Japanese away." Not, of course, distinguishing Japanese from Japanese Americans, not distinguishing ethnicity with political allegiance. But not much of that, to tell you the truth. Most of all it's been supportive, and I think Fred and Gordon and Min, the people who brought these cases, are sympathetic individuals. They're really upstanding citizens, they're bright, strong people, and they're sympathetic figures.

Q: What's been their reaction to today's motion?

DM: I heard that Min Yasui is very happy. I talked to Fred. Fred is more, I think, shell-shocked than anything else. He's very surprised. He said... I said, "Well, how do you feel, Fred?" And he said, "I can't believe it, I'm so surprised." He expected this court suit, like all court suits to, you know, drag on another twenty-five years, forty years, or whatever. But he was surprised that we were able to reach a resolution, or what looks like a step in the resolution so quickly. He waited forty years. And now to file a suit in January and get it resolved in October, early October, was very surprising to him.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

Q: Could you say something about, what's your sense of the government's, what the government's been doing during this time, in terms of a pardon, and what they've been doing the last week, before making this motion? Or what led up to their decision to make this motion?

DM: The U.S. Attorney had been telling us from the start that they were trying to reach a political accommodation within the Department of Justice, and, you know, all the way to the White House. And they didn't necessarily want to answer our petition for a lot of reasons, political, some legal. At one point after the Commission came down with a recommendation that the petitioners be pardoned, they broached us with the idea of possibly accepting a pardon. As lawyers have to do, we took it back to our clients. Fred Korematsu told me, he said, "We shouldn't accept a pardon. If anything, we should pardon the government." He said, "A pardon means guilt, and I was not guilty." So we took that message back to the U.S. attorney. Eventually they hinted at greater pardons, a pardon of innocence, they went through that. A pardon of innocence with finding, presidential pardon of innocence with finding. All of which Fred told us, "Look, I don't want to talk about it. I'm not interested. I want to see... I've come forty years through this thing to reach some kind of resolution or not accept a pardon." I think what happened, in the last week the process accelerated simply because the government was required to respond on, let's see, what was it, October... excuse me, it was September 25th. And they were required to respond by that day. They were very close to reaching some kind of decision on it, but they hadn't quite made it. So I think what happened is they had to ask the court for another week, claiming that they had found sensitive documents. Internally, I believe what happened is that they were really trying to iron out the bugs as to what they were going to offer. And it's clear today -- and I know this for a fact -- that they knew we would not accept a pardon anywhere along the line. If they thought that we would accept a pardon, they'd get away as cheaply as they could as far as politically looking good, and not having to go through with this trial. So, what they finally did is believe that we were serious when we said we didn't want a pardon, and as a result they went one step further, which is a stronger resolution by moving to vacate and dismissing the indictment.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1983, 2010 Densho and Steven Okazaki. All Rights Reserved.