Iconic Statue Faces Diplomatic Hit in 9th Cir.

     PASADENA, Calif. (CN) — The Ninth Circuit was asked Tuesday to reverse a judge who found that a Japanese man doesn’t have standing to challenge a monument to women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
     In February 2014, Michiko Shiota Gingery, Koichi Mera and the group Global Alliance for Historical Truth of Santa Monica asked a federal court in Los Angeles to order a prominent bronze statue removed from Central Park in Glendale, claiming it posed a threat to diplomatic relations between the United States and Japan.
     Gingery died last year, leaving Mera as the only individual plaintiff in the lawsuit. Mera, who is not a Glendale resident, is also president of the Global Alliance, abbreviated in court filings to GAHT-US.
     Los Angeles U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson rejected Mera’s claim for lack of standing nearly two years ago.
     “The fact that local residents feel disinclined to visit a local park is simply not the type of injury that can be considered to be in the ‘line of causation’ for alleged violations of the foreign affairs power,” Anderson wrote in the August 2014 order, adding that the monument is “entirely consistent with the federal government’s foreign policy.”
     Mera and his group appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel on Tuesday heard arguments at the Richard H. Chambers Courthouse in Pasadena.
     Mera’s attorney Ronald Barak said that Anderson committed an error in holding that Mera and the group lacked standing to bring a foreign affair preemption claim.
     “Glendale attempted, and attempts, to trump such federal policy by permanently installing a 1,100-pound monument and plaque in Glendale Central Park that expressly castigates and condemns the Japanese for unproven war crimes,” the Pacific Palisades attorney said.
     The bronze memorial displays a young girl sitting next to an empty chair, with a bird on her shoulder. A plaque condemns Japan for avoiding responsibility for the abduction of more than 200,000 women, including Koreans, Filipinos, Chinese, Indonesians, Dutch and Japanese, during the 1930s and 40s.
     Barak said the plaque asks Japan to accept historical responsibility for and apologize for the war crimes, arguing that since the U.S. government would not have built the monument, Glendale shouldn’t have either.
     Visiting Brooklyn Judge Edward Korman appeared unswayed, noting that the federal government had not intervened in the case.
     “It hasn’t even written a letter to Glendale, have they, saying you’re interfering with the conduct of American foreign policy?” Korman asked.
     In a nod to the panel’s judge Kim Wardlaw, Barak replied by citing the Ninth Circuit case Von Saher v. Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena. In a dissent, the attorney said, Wardlaw had found “federal policy where she found it, whether or not a letter was written.”
     The attorney urged the court to reverse and remand the case back to Anderson because his clients had done enough to establish standing through allegations of psychological injury and loss of enjoyment and use of the Glendale’s Central Park.
     Glendale’s attorney, Christopher Munsey, said Anderson’s ruling should stand. A judgment in Mera’s favor would create an “unprecedented expansion” of the foreign affairs preemption, the Sidley Austin attorney said.
     “To be clear, no case has ever found foreign affairs preemption under facts such as those presented here,” Munsey said.
     Wardlaw, Korman and Judge Stephen Reinhardt took the case under submission.
     After Anderson’s 2014 ruling, Global Alliance for Historical Truth filed a lawsuit in state court alleging only that the memorial violated Glendale’s municipal code by failing to vote on the text engraved on a plaque beside the memorial.
     A state court judge rejected that lawsuit and Mera appealed.
     The Japanese military allegedly enslaved young women and teenagers during Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula. The Japanese government has resisted South Korea’s calls for an official apology and compensation for victims.
     After the hearing, Barak said there is a difference between the Glendale monument and one that recognizes other war crimes, like the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany.
     “Germany takes no exception with that kind of monument. Japan says: ‘We’re being accused of things we didn’t do. No one has ever proved that we have. We take exception with it.’ That’s night and day difference from a Holocaust monument,” Barak said.
     When Courthouse News asked Mera about his personal feelings toward the monument, his attorney interrupted.
     “I don’t want a deposition taken here,” Barak said, advising the reporter to look at Mera’s public testimony. “I don’t want Dr. Mera to answer those kind of questions.”
     Mera, who was in court with several Global Alliance members, did say that he was “looking forward” to the Ninth Circuit’s judgment.
     Korean American Forum of California director Phyllis Kim said Glendale and other local governments have a “right to express its opinion about historical events and concerns of human rights violations.”
     “It is unfortunate the history deniers, including the current Abe administration [in Japan], are spending enormous amounts of money and expensive legal fees to erase and revise historical facts, only to prove that the truth and justice will prevail,” Kim wrote in an email.
     Koreans make up 5.4 percent of Glendale’s nearly 192,000 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

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