City of Glendale Prevails in ‘Comfort Women’ Lawsuit

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GLENDALE – U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on Aug. 4 dismissed a lawsuit against the City of Glendale, which sought the removal of a monument in Glendale’s Central Park that memorializes the more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army between 1932 and 1945.

Michiko Shiota Gingery, et al. v. City of Glendale, et al. was filed against the city by Michiko Shiota Gingery, a Glendale resident, and the Global Alliance for Historical Truth (GAHT-US), a nonprofit corporation. The plaintiffs claimed that the placement of the monument interfered with the Executive Branch’s primary authority to conduct foreign relations and was an unconstitutional interference with the federal government’s foreign affairs power.

A cameraman shoots the comfort women monument in Glendale after its unveiling last year. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

A cameraman shoots the comfort women monument in Glendale after its unveiling last year. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

During Glendale City Council meetings last year, opponents of the monument said that it would stir up anti-Japanese prejudice. Many also stated that the comfort women volunteered to be prostitutes and were not sex slaves, and that Japan was being singled out for a practice that has been widespread among soldiers from other countries, including the U.S.

Politicians from Japan have also visited Glendale to ask that the monument be taken down.

GAHT-US, whose goal is to “defend Japan’s honor,” said it will appeal. Spokesperson Koichi Mera said in a statement that the ruling was “extremely subjective” and that the group is considering various legal options.

Representatives of Japanese American civil rights groups, including JACL and Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, have spoken out in support of the monument.

In response to the city’s motion to dismiss the case, the court ruled in the city’s favor. Preliminarily, the court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have “standing” to bring suit as they suffered no tangible harm from the placement of the monument in the park.

Substantively, the court ruled that the plaintiffs could not articulate a clear conflict between the city’s approval of the monument and the federal government’s policies regarding recognition of the plight of the comfort women. The court noted that, even according to the facts in the plaintiffs’ complaint, “Glendale’s placement of the statue is entirely consistent with the federal government’s foreign policy.”

The judge also dismissed the plaintiffs’ procedural claim as being outside federal jurisdiction.

Michael Garcia, Glendale’s city attorney, stated, “The City Attorney’s Office and the attorneys from Sidley Austin LLP, the firm who provided pro bono legal services to assist the city’s litigation efforts, always believed that this lawsuit was without merit. We are pleased that the court recognized our City Council’s right to make public pronouncements on matters important to our community.”

Andrew Rawcliffe and Miah Yun of the Glendale City Attorney’s Office defended the city in the case, along with the Sidley Austin team of Bradley Ellis, Frank Broccolo, Christopher Munsey, and Laura Richardson. The plaintiffs were represented by the law firm of Mayer Brown.

Since 2012, the City of Glendale has observed “Comfort Woman Day” on July 30, as designated by a U.S. House resolution in 2007. For the third annual commemoration, the Korea-Glendale Sister City Association organized a “Do the Right Thing” exhibition at the Central Library and a cultural event at the Alex Theatre featuring speeches by two former comfort women, Ok-Seon Lee and Il-Chul Kang.

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