SAN FRANCISCO — Renowned attorney and community activist Garrick Sherman Lew passed away on March 19 due to complications arising from his treatment for cancer.
He will be remembered as a skillful and talented attorney, a tireless advocate in the fight for social justice and equality, an icon in the Asian American community, a devoted husband to his wife, Diane Hiura, a loving and engaged father to his two sons, Dillon and Brandon, and an indispensable friend to those who knew him.
The first of three children, he was born on July 25, 1950, in Oakland to parents Share and Jennie Lew. A product of the Oakland public schools, Lew received his BA with honors from UC Berkeley in 1971 and his JD from UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law in 1974. From his first years as a student at Cal, he fought for the establishment of an ethnic studies program, demonstrated in the Third World Strike, and helped establish youth organizations in Oakland’s Chinatown.
Throughout his legal career, Lew was an ardent champion of civil rights and social justice, and a staunch defender of those unable to defend themselves. As a fearless young lawyer, he represented Wendy Yoshimura, the fugitive who was caught with Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. He was also part of the legal team fighting the eviction of tenants from the International Hotel, and provided pro bono services to demonstrators arrested in anti-Vietnam war protests.
It was out of this sense of justice and pride in his heritage as an Asian American that he helped establish the Asian Law Caucus while still a law student. He later co-founded Minami, Tomine and Lew, one of the first Asian American law firms in the country. The firm became Minami Lew & Tamaki, and then Minami Tamaki when Lew started his own practice in 2006.
“What many do not know about is Garrick’s indispensable role in helping to create the Asian Law Caucus in 1972 and his critical part in its survival,” said attorney Dale Minami. “He became involved in 1971 when he applied, and was accepted to, Boalt Hall. There, he learned about this new, radical legal organization fighting for the rights of APIs.
“During the summer of 1972, he gave up his summer grants to work full-time on the establishment of what was then the Asian Law Caucus. He found the original office on Park Boulevard in Oakland, secured donated furniture from Kaiser and other unknown places (don’t ask where), built the brick and board bookshelves and recruited volunteers.
“Garrick then convinced a friend to help with the incorporation papers on a pro bono basis. He also created one of the first sliding-scale fee and legal assistance programs for API organizations in the country. He even filed the incorporation papers personally in Sacramento and recruited many of the original board members.
“As a fledgling group, we had no reputation, money or cache so he persuaded one of his friends to write an article about Asian Law Caucus in East-West, the local API newspaper, which generated positive reviews for us and established our credibility. Garrick also brought in one of our first clients, Barry Chan, who was arrested and roughed up in Chinatown, which led to the filing of a massive lawsuit against San Francisco police. We were paid a fee, which allowed us to survive, literally.
“He was never paid a dime for his work except for occasional free roast pork sandwiches from the HofBrau on Grand Avenue. I am absolutely certain that without Garrick, there would be no Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus today.”
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said, “Garrick was a mentor and hero to so many public defenders and criminal defense attorneys. Without his mentorship and guidance, I would have never been able to realize my dream of becoming a public defender. He was an activist lawyer who never shied away from representing a client who needed him, and was always there to support communities in need.”
Adachi was a longtime friend who clerked for Lew in the 1980s. The two also co-authored continuing education materials for attorneys.
In his 42 years of practicing law, Lew specialized in criminal defense trial work with a focus on complex white-collar cases, but he also served on the federal court’s Criminal Justice Panel for 30 years, handling hundreds of cases for indigent clients. In a testament to his belief that every person charged with a crime deserved representation, he served as the defense attorney for a notorious serial killer, Charles Ng.
Lew received numerous honors, awards, and recognitions for his professional accomplishments. Friends said he was also one of the funniest people alive, sometimes unintentionally. Throughout his life, he stayed true to the principles that guided his life: advancing justice, fighting for the underdog, mentoring young attorneys, and being fiercely loyal to family and friends.
Survivors also include his father Share, sister Sherene, brother Rictor, and Rictor’s wife Patty.
The Lew family requests that any donations in his honor be made to either a college fund for his son Brandon, or to the Garrick S. Lew Legacy Fund at the Minami Tamaki Yamauchi Kwok & Lee Foundation. Visit http://GarrickLew.org for more information.