October 2010 Bar Bulletin
Gordon Hirabayashi: An American Case
By Jeffrey Liang
In 1942, Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi challenged the military curfew and evacuation orders that forced more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II to be relocated into internment camps.1 Almost 40 years later, Peter Irons, a political science professor and attorney, teamed with attorneys in the King County Bar Association, as well as attorneys in San Francisco and Portland, to provide Korematsu, Yasui and Hirabayashi with an opportunity to vacate their convictions.
The Gordon Hirabayashi Legal Team consisted of attorneys and law students located in the Puget Sound region, who volunteered their time to vacate Hirabayashi’s convictions. What initially was a six-month project turned into a six-year campaign that involved a monumental team effort to exonerate Hirabayashi and the Japanese-American community. I had the opportunity to interview Camden (“Cam”) Hall, Rod Kawakami, Roger Shimizu and Benson Wong, who were four of the members of the Hirabayashi legal team.2
Kawakami took over as lead counsel after Kathryn Bannai assembled the legal team of volunteers. Hall was an attorney at a prestigious Seattle law firm and volunteered to provide his experience as a litigator to the team. Hall felt a personal connection to Hirabayashi’s case, based on his childhood memories of a Japanese-American gardener named Paul Suzuki. Working on the Hirabayashi case was a way for Hall to honor an individual he admired and respected as a child.
Shimizu, who was born in the Portland stockyards while his family was being evacuated to the internment camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, shared an office with Kawakami and became the legal team’s treasurer to account for all the donations that came in from across the country. Wong volunteered while in his first year of practice out of law school and assisted the team with strategy, research and drafting.
Gordon Hirabayashi’s Campaign
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