Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, May 23, 2023


Page 3


Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronald S.W. Lew, 81, Dies

Jurist Was Marked by Pleasant Manner, Industriousness, Legal Acumen; Said to Have Been ‘Loved by All’


By a MetNews Staff Writer




     Ronald S.W. Lew—who, after ascending to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, retained his humility, defying the stereotypical image of a federal judge, and was known for his kindness and gentle manner—has died.

He was 81. The judge succumbed on Friday at West Hills Hospital.

His judicial career spanned nearly four decades. Lew was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by Gov. Jerry Brown in 1982, elevated to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1984 by Gov. George Deukmejian, and named to the District Court by President Ronald Reagan on Feb. 2, 1987.

Upon his confirmation by the Senate on May 7, 1987, he became the first Asian American judge in the United States, outside of Hawaii. He assumed senior status in 2006.

Although he could be, by his own description, “very firm” on the bench, he was not confrontational, and was generally highly regarded by prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, and attorneys on both sides in civil disputes.

Retired Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Isabel R. Cohen, who served with Lew on the Los Angeles Municipal Court, said of him:

“He was kind and caring, as well as bright, knowledgeable in the law, and hard working. A dignified eminence, loved by all.”

Baron’s Remarks

Retired Court of Appeal Justice Elizabeth Baron of this district’s Div. Five reflected:

“When I think back on the days I knew Judge Ron Lew, I feel a sense of comfort. We had random conversations about our families and the stark differences in our childhoods that somehow made us feel closer. Ron was so stable and comfortable to be around. I always felt I was in the presence of greatness, a greatness of which he was totally oblivious.”

She added:

“Once when he reached the federal bench, he asked me for a photograph from my modeling days. I am very proud to be in one of his photo drawers along with many others he thought of as friends.

“Ron deserves to rest in peace as he brought peace to all whose lives he touched.”

Baron, appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1990 by Gov. George Deukmejian, said she is “sure” that Lew “put in a good word” for her with Deukmejian’s office—though, she noted, he never told her so—thus starting her out on her “judicial journey” which was to include service on the Los Angeles Superior Court.

Murphy’s Recollections

Another jurist who credits Lew with helping her get on the bench is Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Murphy. She recounted:

“I met Judge Lew during a chance encounter when I sat next to him at a magistrate judge’s going away luncheon in the 1990s. Instead of talking about himself as some might do, he asked many questions about me, and I finally mentioned I had applied for an appointment to Superior Court.

“He asked for my application materials. I know that he helped me behind the scenes as he many helped others. When I called him, he was generous with his time and his advice was excellent. He would never speak of those he quietly mentored and helped along the way.”

Service to Community

Murphy added:

“Judge Lew gave to the legal community in so many ways. For example, for many years he did the Los Angeles County Bar Nuts and Bolts seminars with John McNicholas, Gretchen Nelson and me. He attended our early breakfast prep sessions so the presentation to the lawyers would be organized and helpful, although he needed no such preparation.

“No one person knows how much Judge Lew did to help law students, lawyers, the bar and the community, as he quietly went about helping so many with his sage advice and assistance.

“After my appointment, we enjoyed the occasional lunch at my favorite Chinese restaurant in old Chinatown. He spoke of his wife Mamie who he adored, and his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was so proud of his family. They were fortunate to have him.

“I am grateful to a lived at a time and place where Judge Lew lived. His was a life well lived.”

Yang’s Thoughts

Debra Yang, who was U.S. attorney for the Central District of California and is now a partner in the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, offered these thoughts:

“Judge Lew was at his core a man devoted to his family including his wife Mamie, four children and all of his grandchildren.

“Professionally, he was someone who wanted to educate those all around him and make them better people, better lawyers. He was beyond generous with his time, his mentorship, and shared his trailblazing ways with many.

“As his first female law clerk, I saw how he would encourage and push his clerks to be better, think more, be more involved in the community. Personally, I was able to see some of dedication first hand. We sat on the Chinese American Museum Board together, the Committee of 100 together, and went to countless Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association and [National Asian Pacific American Bar Association] meetings together. I watched as he mentored generations of young lawyers and help them grow and build their careers.

“And nothing made him happier than seeing his law clerks gain prowess and succeed in life. He lived a large and generous life, and his presence in the legal world will be felt through the Lew Law Clerk Family for generations. Terree Bowers is also a former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California.

“Judge Lew was an outstanding jurist, but he was an even more exemplary person,” Bowers said, adding:

“His smile was contagious. He brought equanimity to even the most difficult situation. People were genuinely happy to see him and, no matter your mood, you were always uplifted when you left him. We need people of good cheer.”

Kozinski Comments

Alex Kozinski, a former judge of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the chief judge from 2007-14, termed Lew a “kind, generous man,” recalling:

“I seldom saw him when he didn’t have a smile on his lips and I never heard him say a negative word about anybody.”

He added that his “passing is a grave loss to the federal judiciary and the world.”

Retired District Court Judge Dickran Tevrizian of the Central District of California said:

“I lost a good friend and colleague. He was one of the finest examples of a sitting trial judge.”

Former State Bar President Patrick M. Kelly, now an arbitrator/mediator, had this to say:

“Judge Ronald Lew was not only an exceptional jurist, he was also an exceptional husband, father, son and friend. He always had a positive word about everyone and everything—so much so that his good feelings always benefited those who had the good fortune to share his company.”

‘Pioneer, Friend, Mentor’

Ronald Low is a past president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association and was a senior advisor to Mayor James Hahn. He said:

“Judge Lew’s passing left many of us in the Asian Pacific American (“APA”) legal community heartbroken. He was a pioneer, friend and mentor who gave tirelessly of his time to help us succeed as individuals and as a community. He was both a catalyst and cornerstone of many APA organizations throughout the nation, Los Angeles Chinatown Service Center, The Chinese American Museum, Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association (SCCLA), National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA), California and National Asian Pacific American Judge’s Association, to name a few. He gave us the ‘gift that keeps on giving’!

“RIP Judge Lew and ‘thank you’ for blessing us with your light, love and compassion.”

Antonovich’s Thoughts

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich had this to say:

“Ron Lew was a dear and trusted friend for over four decades. My family and I will cherish the memories we had with him and his family. 

“Ron lived an amazing life devoted to public service grounded by his faith in God and his commitment to his family.

“His brilliance and meticulousness were recognized by two governors of different political parties who appointed him to state judgeships. This was only topped by his appointment as federal district court judge by President Reagan.

“His memory and example will live on.”

Court’s Press Release

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California yesterday issued a press release containing these comments:

District Court Chief Judge Philip S. Gutierrez:

 “At this difficult moment, I will remember Judge Lew’s easy smile and warm laugh. In addition to being a dedicated public servant and model jurist, Judge Lew was also a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Judge Lew approached everything he did with a commitment to hard work and excellence. Judge Lew leaves behind a lasting legacy.”

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary H. Murguia:

“Judge Lew was a wonderful man and a great judge. He was an excellent representative of the district on all circuit and national matters regarding judicial governance and policy.”

District Court Senior Judge Dean P. Pregerson:

“Judge Lew radiated warmth, kindness, strength, and grace.”

District Court Judge George H. Wu:

“Judge Lew was an inspiration for many of us who followed in his footsteps but, equally so, because of his generous heart.”

District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee, a past president of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association:

 “Judge Lew was a pillar in the Los Angeles legal community, and especially in the Chinese American community. He had a prodigious work ethic and a sly sense of humor. He was a mentor to so many, including me.”

District Court Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald: “I tried many cases before Judge Lew in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Jurors adored him and he was always patient with everyone in the courtroom. When he convicted a bank robbery defendant after a bench trial, the defendant said, ‘Thank you, Your Honor!’ ”

District Court Judge Fernando L. Aenlle-Rocha:

“During the brief time we overlapped on the court, Judge Lew was always kind, warm, and supportive. I appreciated his advice and collegiality.”

Lew’s law clerks Katie Rubcich and George MacCabe:

“Judge Lew brightened our days with his infectious smile, clever jokes, thoughtful advice, and captivating stories. We are so blessed to have had such a brilliant and wonderful mentor, and we are grateful that Judge Lew invested so much time and care into guiding us.”

Born in Laundry

Lew was the third of nine children. He was born in the back room of his father’s laundry near the Coliseum.

After obtaining his undergraduate degree at Loyola Marymount University in 1964, serving in the Army from 1967-69 (returning from Okinawa as a first lieutenant), getting married in his last year of law school, and securing a law degree from Southwestern in 1971, proceeding to pass the bar exam, Lew went back to work at the laundry.

He recounted in a 1998 interview that after a few weeks, his father told him:

“You’re fired. Go get a real job. You’re a lawyer.”

Lew looked up law offices in the phone directory, decided to apply to become a Los Angeles deputy city attorney, and was accepted by that office. He quickly became a community leader and played a role in the founding of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association, of which he was the fourth president.

From 1976-82, he was a member of the Los Angeles City Fire and Police Pension Commission.

Lew was named the 1998 Metropolitan News-Enterprise “person of the year.” A Jan. 15, 1999 dinner in his honor was attended by 309 persons.

Undergoes Operations

In 1995, Lew underwent his first heart surgery.

In 2012, he fell four feet while visiting the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, hitting is head and being rendered unconscious, and was flown to Thailand where he underwent surgery at Bangkok Hospital Medical Center. A second operation was performed there a month later to relieve pressure on the brain. He was hospitalized last January.

Magazine Article

An article in the December 2015 edition of The Federal Lawyer, a national magazine published by the Federal Bar Association, says of Lew:

“The journey of overcoming his challenges and adversities resulted in him becoming a cornerstone, trailblazer, and inspiration to generations of Asian-American judges and lawyers throughout the country. Now, as a result of his mission to help others reach the federal bench and beyond, there are more than a dozen Asian-American federal judges throughout the country. As Judge Lew demonstrates, to do truly good work requires a sense of empathy and understanding that can only be gained through one’s own suffering and struggle.”

The article, by Los Angeles attorney Curtis C. Jung and student Harrison K. Jung, notes:

“When asked about his definition of success, Judge Lew does not consider financial wealth. Instead, he considers having a loving family his real priority.”

It says he “boasts about his lovely wife of more than 45 years, Mamie, and his four children” and his grandchildren, “saying they are the most important part of success.”

They were wed for 53 years.


This 1997 file photo shows then-State of California real estate counsel Christopher K.D. Leong, U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the Central District of California, his wife Mamie Lew, and then-U.S. District Judge George H. King. Leong, Lew, and King were presidents of the Southern California Chinese Lawyers Association.




Judge Lew: Legal Giant, Consummate Gentleman



(The writer is a Los Angeles attorney and a former FBI agent.)



T IS WITH GREAT SADNESS that we mourn the passing of a dear friend and judicial giant, United States District Court Senior Judge Ronald Sing Wai Lew.

I first met Judge Lew in the early 1980s and we became fast friends. That friendship and admiration continued for over 40 years. His passing last Friday was indeed a very dark day for his family, me, his friends, colleagues, our community and yes, indeed, the United States.

Judge Lew and I often discussed our careers and futures together. He was a peer, a confidante, and a mentor. When he was a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sitting in the San Fernando Courthouse, while at a dinner together, I suggested to him he should consider becoming a federal District Court judge. An incumbent was about to retire and it would be quite some time before another opening on the District Court for the Central District of California would arise.

He asked me why he should apply and I told him that he would be a role model for those of Chinese ancestry and likely would be the first person of Chinese ancestry to be named to the District Court for the Central District of California and probably in the entire Ninth Circuit. He did not like any implication that his appointment would be based on his Chinese ancestry as he insisted on his competence, demeanor and experience being the most important criteria for his appointment. Of course, that was already a given, as he excelled in all areas. It wasn’t long after that President Ronald Reagan called him to ask him to accept the nomination.

JUDGE LEW WAS WELL-KNOWN as a consummate gentleman of elegance, compassion, and grace. He was always a polite and a most considerate individual. He would often describe his judicial style as being firm but fair. He ruled according to the facts and the law but always on an individual basis and with high regard for all the parties before him. A simple rule was always, always, always be prepared. He ran an efficient and very tight ship.

Judge Lew was very loyal and thoughtful to his staff. He created an informal alumni association among his many interns and externs over the years whom he hired and mentored. He would often have them all gather from time to time to enjoy the fellowship of each other and maintain an important network cemented by the common thread of having worked for Judge Lew. They would all quickly learn of Judge Lew’s strong work ethic, dedication, and patriotism by his deeds and actions.

Judge Lew was kind enough to swear in me and our extremely close mutual friend, Alan Skobin (who later became vice president and general counsel of the Galpin Motors family of automotive dealerships and a respected member of both the Los Angeles Police Department Commission and the Los Angeles Fire Department Commission) to the federal court. What an honor that was for each of us and our families. He could not have been more considerate.

EARLY LAST JANUARY, I RECEIVED a phone call from Judge Lew. He told me he was calling to apologize to me because while he was in the hospital, he had purchased tickets for himself and his wife Mamie to attend the METNEWS’s Person of the Year Award Dinner (at which I was one of the grateful recipients), but it didn’t look like he would be discharged from the hospital to enable him to attend. Sadly, his health prevented him attending and it was for that reason he called to apologize. Amazing! That phone call sums up the grace and compassion that was Judge Ronald S. W. Lew. I shall always remember him taking the time to call me despite his medical condition what an act of kindness and consideration but that was vintage Ron Lew.

Suffice to say, his lasting friendship is a gift beyond words. In short, there are not enough keys on my computer keyboard to say all the good and honorable things there are to say about Judge Ronald S. W. Lew. He will be missed, his memory treasured, and his legacy will be a benchmark for others to aspire to. May he rest in eternal peace.


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