Prominent defense and civil rights attorney honored after his death

Garrick Lew. courtesy of Dale Minami

Garrick Lew. courtesy of Dale Minami
Garrick Lew. courtesy of Dale Minami

Garrick Lew, a prominent San Francisco defense attorney and co-founder of the Asian Law Caucus, passed away on March 19. He was 65.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who clerked for Lew in the 1980s and worked with him on continuing education materials for attorneys, described Lew as 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,” Adachi said. “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.”

Lew was the former law partner of noted Japanese American attorneys Dale Minami and Don Tamaki, and was remembered by Minami for his work in landmark cases involving Asian Americans.

“From his early days, fighting for ethnic studies, organizing Chinatown youth in Oakland, Garrick was a unique activist,” recalled Minami to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “He was instrumental in starting the Asian Law Caucus in 1971 and helped litigate impact cases against the San Francisco police for racial profiling, defending Wendy Yoshimura, who was caught with Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army, fighting against the evictions at the International Hotel and suing the State Attorney General for defamatory publications about Chinese Americans.”

Chris Punongbayan, executive director of the Asian Law Caucus, a civil rights organization, said Lew helped incorporate the group, find funding and bring in some of the first big cases the group worked on relating to police accountability.

“He really infused within us the spirit of fighting for progressive causes and empowering the community so we are very saddened by the news of his passing and very grateful for everything he’s done,” Punongbayan said.

Minami said Lew was “one of the first Asian Pacific American private criminal defense lawyers in the Bay Area and his immense talent, devotion to clients and great success was an inspiration to many other” Asian Pacific American criminal defense attorneys.

“Garrick mentored countless other attorneys and many of them expressed their debt to him for helping them achieve their goal of criminal defense work,” Minami added. “He was my friend for 45 years, law partner for 35 years and a man who loved people dearly. We lost a giant.”

Born in Oakland and educated at the University of California at Berkeley and Boalt Hall of Law, Lew was a founding partner at the law firm of Minami, Lew and Tamaki from 1974 until 2006, when he left to start his own practice.

The Asian Law Caucus established a fund for donations in Lew’s honor last year when he became ill.

A celebration of Lew’s life was held on March 29.

The Lew Family requests that any donations in his honor be made to either a college fund for Garrick’s son Brandon ( or to the Garrick S. Lew Legacy Fund at the Minami Tamaki Yamauchi Kwok & Lee Foundation (

Funds donated to Brandon’s college fund via are not tax-deductible. The Garrick S. Lew Legacy Fund is administered by the MTYKL Foundation, which has its 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status pending. Donations made now will be deductible to the extent provided by law retroactive to the date (2015) of their tax-exempt application, the Foundation notes.

— The Nichi Bei Weekly contributed to this report.

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