Daniel Lew named chief public defender

Daniel Lew has been selected as just the third person to lead public defender services in Northeastern Minnesota since the position was established nearly a half-century ago.

Daniel Lew
Daniel Lew

Daniel Lew has been selected as just the third person to lead public defender services in Northeastern Minnesota since the position was established nearly a half-century ago.

Lew, 43, will succeed Fred Friedman, who is retiring on March 31 after 28 years as chief public defender for the 6th Judicial District.

Lew is the first Asian American to serve as a chief public defender in Minnesota, and only the fourth nationwide, according to the Minnesota Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

"I'm humbled to have the opportunity to serve a community that I love and that has given me and my family so much," Lew told the News Tribune. "My hope is that I will continue the tradition of high-quality public defender services for northeast Minnesota, where we every day work tirelessly to change the trajectory of lives."

MNAPABA President Veena Iyer said Lew's hire is a significant one for the Asian American community in Minnesota.


"Dan's appointment is not only notable as another great 'first' for the state of Minnesota, but it's also a testament to his long career

serving the people of Minnesota," Iyer said in a statement. "Dan has spent countless hours mentoring members of our organization and giving back, and we know that his appointment will inspire a new generation of law students and attorneys to commit themselves to a career of service."

A New York City native and the son of Chinese immigrants, Lew first came to Minnesota to study law at Hamline University. After graduating in 1995, he worked as a prosecutor with the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office and a law clerk with Hennepin County Judge Tony Leung, the state's first Asian-American judge.

Friedman brought Lew to Duluth in 1996 as an assistant state public defender. He has served continuously in Northeastern Minnesota, with the exception of a five-year stint in the same role in St. Paul. Since 2007, he has served as the district's managing attorney.

Lew was selected from a pool of applicants interviewed by a Board of Defense committee, which included the district's chief and assistant chief judges, as well as members chosen by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Jeff Adachi, the chief public defender in San Francisco and one of the few Asian Americans to lead a public defender's office, applauded Lew's selection.

"Dan, as the son of immigrant parents, comes from a background where he understands the challenges facing the clients his office represents," Adachi said. "So the perspective he brings to the office is one that is invaluable and will help the office meet its mission of serving the diverse populations it represents."

The district's chief public defender is responsible for all state public defense services at the six courthouses in Carlton, Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties, covering roughly 14,000 square miles. More than 90 percent of defendants in the four counties are granted public defenders, and the office currently employs about 30 attorneys and 10 professional staff.


Friedman, 66, announced in October would he would retire after more than 41 years as a public defender. Friedman was appointed chief in 1986, replacing John Durfee, who had served in the position since it was established in 1966.

"I'm very proud that there have only been two chief public defenders in last 50 years," Friedman said. "Most districts go through a new chief every few years. That's a unique thing about us; it's a career position."

Friedman, who did not play a role in Lew's selection, said he expects him to fill the role well.

"Dan will bring an attention to detail, an interest in always changing technology and innovations to the position," he said. "He'll do great."

Lew lives in Duluth with his wife, Pakou Ly, and their five children.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads