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Heart Mountain Relocation Center Focus of Mock Trial at UW April 10

March 23, 2017
head portraits of Al Simpson, Joel Defebaugh and Mikole Soto

This spring semester’s Spence Law Firm Historic Trial at the University of Wyoming explores the conflicting ideologies surrounding the military draft of Japanese-Americans incarcerated at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center near Cody and Powell during World War II.

The UW College of Law will host the third annual mock trial Monday, April 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the College of Law large moot courtroom (Room 178). The mock trial is free and open to the public. An overflow room, with a live stream of the trial, will be provided in case of an overflow audience. Refreshments will be provided at the break.

The Spence Law Firm Historic Trial is a mock trial created from the facts of a chronicled historic event that never actually produced a trial, but could have. Collaborating with the Spence Law Firm, of Jackson, the UW College of Law created the annual historical trial as a fun and interesting way to learn about important historical events through a legal lens, while also providing UW law students a way to simulate a trial of a high-profile case.

UW law students will act as attorneys, with the assistance of actual attorneys. Sen. Al Simpson (B.S. 1954 and J.D. 1958, both from UW) will preside as trial judge. As a Boy Scout in Cody, Simpson met Norman Mineta (U.S. House of Representative from California) at the Heart Mountain Center, where Mineta and his family were interned. Later, when both were in Congress, Simpson and Mineta wrote the legislation that provided reparations to Japanese-Americans who were incarcerated during World War II.

While imprisoned in one of 10 internment camps across the nation during World War II, Japanese-Americans were still subject to the military draft. This became a divisive issue in the camps, especially at Heart Mountain. While some believed military service was a chance to show patriotism to the United States, others felt that their constitutional rights should be restored before being required to perform a mandatory service.

Those with the latter view formed the Fair Play Committee, which was led by real-life internee Frank Emi. Tensions between members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and anti-resister internees highlighted the difficulties faced by an entire group of people whose civil liberties were violated.

For the mock trial, the fictional libel case of Emi v. Kawai is based upon an anti-Fair Play Committee editorial published by the Heart Mountain Sentinel, the internees’ camp newspaper. In the mock trial, Emi is suing the editorial writer for libel, alleging that the piece contained false statements.

Third-year UW College of Law student Mikole Soto, of Sheridan, and Cheyenne attorney Terry Mackey (B.A. 1968 and J.D. 1970, both from UW) will represent Emi and the Fair Play Committee. Second-year UW law student Joel Defebaugh, of Casper, and supervising Assistant Attorney General Christyne Martens (J.D. 2010 from UW) will represent Nobu Kawai and the Heart Mountain Sentinel.

“With the chosen case for this year being both so close to home and in recent history, the College of Law is fortunate to have living descendants of those actually affected by the internment camp participating in the trial, playing witnesses and serving in other roles,” says Christine Reed, College of Law director of communications.

Special guests include Grace Kubota Ybarra, in the role of her mother, who served as an unofficial secretary for the Fair Play Committee; plus descendants Kevin Inouye, Darrell Kunitomi, Josh Watanabe and Jack Ybarra.

Sociology and anthropology Instructor Aura Newlin (B.A. 2003 from UW), from Northwest College in Powell, and other officials from the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center provided substantial assistance to the College of Law for this year’s trial, Reed says. Newlin also had relatives interned at Heart Mountain Center.

The mock trial will be live-streamed at both Northwest College and the Heart Mountain Interpretative Center.

In addition to the trial, the College of Law will host a series of panels paying homage to the 75th anniversary of the World War II internment order that created Heart Mountain. Parallels between the past and present will be discussed.

For more information about Heart Mountain Week, visit the UW College of Law website at

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