Densho Digital Repository
JACL Philadelphia Oral History Collection
Title: William Marutani Interview
Narrator: William Marutani
Interviewer: Herbert J. Horikawa
Location: Medford, New Jersey
Date: October 23, 1994
Densho ID: ddr-phljacl-1-14-5

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HH: So after these experiences you had, each occasion after that, you went back to Philadelphia to practice law?

WM: Yes, right.

HH: You're not a criminal lawyer.

WM: I'm not a criminal lawyer.

HH: But you were doing, at least in Mississippi, you were...

WM: Practicing criminal law, the charges were some kind of a crime. Trumped up charges, by the way.

HH: So you went back to practicing law in Philadelphia. What kinds of things moved you to seek a position on the bench? Or did they come to you instead?

WM: No, actually, one of my partners suggested that, "Why don't you take a shot at it?" And I thought, well, if he thinks that way, maybe I should. And again, it was kind of a challenge. By that time, Jews were on the bench, women were on the bench, let's see, yes, there was a Black African American woman on the bench. By the way, as Asians, one of my theories is that we come last. You'll always find that unless the Jews and the African Americans first entered whatever the hallowed halls may be, and women, we won't get in. It's only after these people make it that we're allowed.

HH: I see. And so you had the appointment from Governor Shapp to be on the Common Pleas, and judging Common Pleas.

WM: Right.

HH: But that was, you're filling somebody else's term on the bench.

WM: That's right.

HH: You had to run on your own after that.

WM: Yes, I did, in '77. I was appointed in '75 and ran on my own in '77.

HH: What was that experience like, actually running for a place on the bench?

WM: Yeah, it's an awkward campaign because a judge, you're restricted to many, many things, and many things that a regular candidate for some political office can say and do, but as a judge you're restricted. But again, I wanted to be able to... I'm not quite sure how to put this, to establish that an Asian can do just as well as anybody else, and maybe even better. So I campaigned very hard in the evenings and on weekends and during my vacation time I had. And surprisingly, much to my surprise, I came out first in the election out of a field of eleven candidates. It was boiled down to seven for the final.

HH: I understand that there might have been some confusion at the time, some people thinking that this person Marutani, might be Italian.

WM: I guess there must have been some of that, but let me tell you something about that. Two points I want to make about the ethnicity, my "Italian ethnicity." By the way, it'd be all right for me if I were Italian, but I'm not. Number one is the fact that if an Italian can win in Philadelphia County, then they ought to run nothing but Italian candidates because it's a sure winner, if that is ascribed to me, the Italian name. Point number two is to have an Italian name, however, citywide, countywide, can be a detriment. Because at that time, Mayor Rizzo, for whom, by the way, I have a great deal of affection, Mayor Rizzo was disliked by the Black African Americans in Philadelphia. And I know that they're, in some of the wards, I did very poorly among the Black wards in Philadelphia. Let me make another point about that. I think the other thing is, you see, if a white man wins an election, nobody says anything. If you have an African American winning the election, nobody says anything, but when a non-white, non-Black candidate wins, comes out on top, now you got to have an explanation. He's not a candidate who's just as good as anybody else, but he's a fluke. Let me tell you what the fluke is. The fluke is he had an Italian name. When I was appointed, they had to reconcile the difficulty, the conflict as well. One of the stories that was being circulated was that I was appointed by Governor Shapp in 1975, because 1976 was the bicentennial year, 1776 to 1976. And there'd be a lot of visitors coming from Japan through Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, et cetera. So we got to have a Japanese American up there, "One of your kind," so they can point to him and proudly say, "We have one of your kind up on the bench." And this is pure hogwash, pure hogwash.

HH: Now, when you went into law, you said earlier that it was not your intention to be a lawyer, but really go into business.

WM: Right.

HH: As you're thinking about it now, in retrospect, are you sorry that you never went full force into business?

WM: Well, of course, if you don't go into something that you thought of going into, it's very easy to say what the predictions would be. Now, to some extent, I'm sorry, because I think that, frankly, the financial rewards would have been much greater. Well, almost unlimited. I don't know whether I would have failed or just fallen flat on my face, but the law is limited to some extent, unless you become a very unusual lawyer.

HH: Would it be... what would your position be, or your viewpoint be regarding other Japanese Americans, or more generally Asian Americans, for that matter, entering the law?

WM: Well, aside from what I may think, I can tell you there's a lot coming in. And every major law firm in Philadelphia, they have one or two Asian Americans. And they did it on their own, and I think that's terrific. The society opened up its eyes, too, but if you're good, you're good, and they'll take you.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.