From the archives

We’ll be out of the office for the holidays, so for an early “Throwback Thursday,” here’s a glance back three years to an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal about racism in the courtroom.

LAW & LITIGATION: Questions for: Mark Kamitomo, president, Washington State Association for Justice

Dec 9, 2011, 3:00am PST


Spokane attorney Mark Kamitomo found himself in the spotlight four years ago when a jury returned a verdict against his client. One of the jurors later complained that racial bias played a role — not against Kamitomo’s client, but against Kamitomo himself.
During deliberations, some jurors reportedly referred to him as “Mr. Kamikaze,” and one remarked that it was appropriate to render the verdict on Pearl Harbor Day.
Kamitomo moved for a new trial; Turner v. Stime is scheduled to go back to court in March 2012. In August, Kamitomo was elected president of the Washington State Association for Justice, formerly the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association. He’s the first person of Asian descent to hold that office.
When did you first observe racism in the courtroom? I’d have to say that’s probably the first time. The only other time, and this actually happened after the Turner v. Stime case, I represented a 76-year-old African-American woman who was gay in a medical malpractice case in Spokane. The whole time I was asking myself, “How would I get a fair shake here?” What I did in the end — and it was surprising to me that the defendants agreed to it — was to go with a private judge. We got a better outcome from a judge than we could ever have hoped to get out of a jury, in my opinion.
Is it hard to spot racism when selecting a jury? It is. A perfect example is that I never could have pegged this jury (in the Turner v. Stime case). Once in a while you get a nut.
What effect has Turner v. Stime had on you? I spend a little more time now not only scrutinizing the responses to see if they are appropriate in my case, but I look for any signs that they might have a problem with my ethnicity. I don’t have anything special that will tell me that, but I am going to follow my gut.
What training do attorneys get on racism today? In very large firms, a lot of firms have undertaken to have diversity training. The courts are certainly tuned in. Our organization, the WSAJ, has a component to it, and we reach out to other organizations in the state to join in. But there is nothing I am aware of for lawyers in general. For the most part, most of the lawyers I know are great people. They don’t have a racist bone in their body.
But juries are another matter? The judge made a very sarcastic comment in this case, along the lines of, “I thought in this era we had moved past this issue. It’s only been a hundred years, so maybe not.”
Interview conducted and condensed by Robert Celaschi


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