I remember hearing this joke as a child: “What do you call a black man with a Ph.D.?” Answer: “A [racial slur omitted].”
Spokane attorney Mark Kamitomo is said to be one of the best personal injury attorneys in the area. But jurors apparently have a belief system in line with that old joke. Apparently five of the jurors referred to him as “Mr. Kamikaze” and “Mr. Miyagi” (from the Karate Kid).
One juror remarked on the coincidence that their verdict would be read on Pearl Harbor Day – saying that given the date, another juror’s racially insulting remark about Kamitomo was “almost appropriate.”
Kamitomo is a Canadian of Japanese descent. He filed a motion for a new trial (which he subsequently won).
What did opposing counsel have to say?
Mark is a hell of a good lawyer, but I’m disappointed that he’s playing the race card here.
Softening statement with something complimentary. Check!
The race card. Check!
What did the jurors have to say? Well, they had problems pronouncing Kamitomo’s name. One relied on the “memory device” of calling him “Mr. Miyagi.” Another said “Mr. Kamikaze” was not racist. One said that the vote was not in any way influenced by race or ethnicity. The presiding juror said that he did not hear any “racially derogatory terms.”
It’s not racist. Check! Answers that strain credibility. Check! I didn’t hear anything racist. Check! Dumb as a rock. Check!
The Seattle Times reported the following:
Those jurors didn’t deny the names were used, but they said they were used not as racial insults but because they had trouble pronouncing the names of both Rekofke [the defendant’s attorney] and Kamitomo.
That’s implausible, [Superior Court Judge Robert] Austin said, noting that no juror affidavits reported any “bastardization” of Rekofke’s “Middle European” name.
“Frankly, I can’t conceive of people seriously undertaking their responsibility and using those kinds of nicknames when it’s one-sided,” Austin said.
Rekofke asked Austin to bring the jurors into court and question them about their comments.
“The jurors are very upset they are being called a racist jury. They’d like to be heard,” Rekofke said.
Austin rejected that request. “What if they say, ‘I’m not a racist’? What does that do for me?” Austin asked.
He noted that in the history of discrimination cases in the United States, “people are never forthright with their prejudices … rarely, if ever, will people disclose that.”
I very nearly fell out of my computer chair and got a concussion when I read Austin’s response. Whoa. Apparently he thought the answers strain credibility as well.
Just for the record, the “racist jury” consisted of Melody Weaver, Jack Lisenbee, Deborah Hagarty, Steven Walther, Brenda Canfield, Jon Smitham and David Smith. Two jurors, Jack Marchant and Mark Costigan, separately chose to inform the court of the jury’s apparent bias. Not everybody thinks that old joke is funny.