Korematsu Center files amicus brief in racial bias case

Seattle University School of Law's Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, joined by the Asian Bar Association of Washington (ABAW), the South Asian Bar Association of Washington (SABAW), and Washington Women Lawyers (WWL), filed its first amicus brief in Turner v. Stime.

This case involves racial bias during juror deliberations in a medical malpractice case that went to trial in Spokane County. A new trial was granted after the trial court ruled that a number of jurors had repeatedly made racist remarks about the plaintiffs' attorney's Japanese name. The court found that there was a doubt about whether these remarks improperly caused a defense verdict and issued an order for a new trial. The defendants have appealed the grant of the new trial.

The parties' briefs have been filed, and the issue on appeal is whether racially derogatory remarks by jurors about a litigant's attorney constitute jury misconduct justifying a new trial. Oral arguments are set for October 13, 2009, in Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals.

An amicus brief is one filed by "a friend of the court," individuals and groups who are not parties in the lawsuit but who have an interest in the outcome of the case. Amicus briefs seek to provide insight on the issues, in addition to those addressed by the parties themselves. Explaining the Korematsu Center's involvement, Center Director Robert Chang said, "We thought it vital to add our voice in this matter that might have a strong negative impact on minority attorneys and on minority communities. If jurors can express bias with courts impotent to provide a remedy, we would be taking a few steps backward in our quest to achieve racial equality."

The brief brought three things to the attention of the court: (1) the history of discrimination against Japanese Americans and Asian Americans in the State of Washington as context for the juror remarks; (2) social science literature about the nature and effect of prejudicial remarks; (3) and the negative impact of an adverse decision in this case on diversity in the legal profession.

The team that worked on the brief included Lorraine K. Bannai (Associate Director, Koremastu Center); Robert S. Chang (Director, Korematsu Center); Roger Daniels (Emeritus Professor of History, University of Cincinnati); Taki Flevaris (Korematsu Advocacy Fellow); Suchi Sharma (representing SABAW); and Keith Talbot (representing ABAW).

At least two other separate amicus briefs have been filed: one by the ACLU (Washington) and the other by the Washington State Association for Justice (formerly Washington State Trial Lawyers Association). Signing on to the ACLU brief were the ACLU (Washington), Columbia Legal Services, Korean American Bar Association, the Latino/a Bar Association of Washington, the Loren Miller Bar Association, the Middle Eastern Lawyers Association of Washington, the Northwest Indian Bar Association, and the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Washington.

The Korematsu Center for Law and Equality is housed at Seattle University School of Law. Its goal is to advance justice through knowledge and advocacy.

For more information, contact Professor Robert S. Chang, Director, at 206.398.4025 or changro@seattleu.edu

Sullivan Hall