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Court rules in favor of memorial to comfort women

An appellant court ruling on Thursday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against the city of Glendale demanding the removal of a memorial statue in Glendale dedicated to as many as 200,000 women from Korea and other countries forced into sex slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Plaintiff Michiko Gingery filed a lawsuit against the city of Glendale and called for removal of the 1,100-pound bronze statue since it was erected in the community's Central Park in 2013. The memorial depicts a girl in Korean garb sitting next to an empty chair, and it commemorates the wartime victims known as comfort women.

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Gingery claims it unconstitutionally disrupted the federal government's foreign policy and relationship with Japan.

However, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said all Glendale did was erect a memorial that takes a stand against human-rights violations, something that's well within the responsibilities of local governments.

"Here, by dedicating a local monument to the plight of the comfort women in World War II, Glendale has joined a long list of other American cities that have likewise used public monuments to express their views on events beyond our borders," Wardlaw wrote in her ruling.

Her decision upheld a U.S. District Court opinion.

Glendale Mayor Paula Devine said the judge's ruling was made at an ideal time because on Friday the city will sign an agreement to establish a "sister city" relationship with the South Korean community of Boeun-gun.

Devine said she's met with a number of surviving comfort women — who are now in their 80s and 90s — when they visited Glendale and shared their stories.

"What they went through as young girls, just kids, they still bear that pain," she said. "No one deserves that kind of treatment. It's very important to raise awareness so something like that never happens again."

Glendale has one of the largest Korean-American populations in California with more than 10,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census.

Ronald Barak, Gingery's attorney, did not return phone calls for a comment.

Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California, expressed her gratitude in a statement to Glendale officials and the legal team that defended the comfort-women statue.

"The message is clear: It is correct and worthy to remember the victims of Japanese military sexual slavery by way of resolutions, memorials and other visible means of various U.S. governmental levels," she said.

The Japanese government over the decades has denied that South Korean women were forced to work in brothels during World War II, but late last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration issued $8.1 million to fund a foundation to support surviving comfort women.

One caveat the Japanese required was that the South Korean government refrain from discussing the comfort-women issue in the international community or at the United Nations.

Kim criticized the gesture shortly after it was announced, saying the Japanese government scaled the matter down to a diplomacy issue when it is a human-rights issue that affected women from 11 different countries.

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Arin Mikailian, arin.mikailian@latimes.com

Twitter: @ArinMikailian

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