A Chinese immigrant's son who worked his way through college and law school at his father's laundry has been selected as the next federal trial judge in Los Angeles, sources said Monday.
San Fernando Superior Court Judge Ronald Sing Wai Lew, 44, of Chatsworth has been recommended by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) to President Reagan, who is expected to formally nominate him to the Senate early next month, the sources said.
Lew, who built a reputation for hard sentences and a temperate courtroom style in two years as a Superior Court judge, was selected by Wilson from a list of a dozen judicial candidates who were all rated "exceptionally well qualified" by a screening committee.
He is the first Chinese-American selected for appointment to the federal bench in Los Angeles and is the first Asian to be named for one of the 11 federal judgeships filled by Wilson in the last three years.
Lew was born in Los Angeles, one of nine children of a Chinese launderer who immigrated from Canton in the 1920s and operated the Mandarin Laundry in downtown Los Angeles until his death in 1973.
After graduating from Loyola High School, Lew attended Loyola University and Southwestern University School of Law. He later spent two years as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles city attorney's office before starting his own small law firm in the 1970s.
A Republican, Lew has been active in civic and legal affairs in the Chinese community, serving on the board of directors of the Chinatown Service Center and the Southern California Chinese Lawyer's Assn.
He was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley in 1976 to the Los Angeles Board of Pension Commissioners, and was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. in 1982 to a municipal judgeship in Los Angeles, becoming the first supervising judge of the municipal court in San Fernando in 1983.
Lew was appointed to a Superior Court judgeship by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1984.
Lawyers and judges interviewed Monday said Lew has a reputation as a judicial conservative who gives tough sentences but who gets along in the courtroom with both defense and prosecuting attorneys.
"I don't like to use the word 'tough,' " Lew said in an interview. "I am very firm."
Lew would be the 22nd active federal trial judge in Los Angeles and would fill a vacancy created earlier this month when U.S. District Judge Laughlin E. Waters, 71, reached senior status.
Competition for Post
Sources said the competition among local lawyers and state judges for the last scheduled opening for a federal judgeship in Los Angeles for the next three years was unusually intense.
Among the candidates considered was U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner, still viewed as a strong contender for a future judgeship if any positions are created or current judges unexpectedly resign.
Sources close to the selection process said Lew's minority background was not the deciding factor in his selection, but added that Wilson was "delighted" with the pick.
Wilson's only other minority selection was U.S. District Judge Ferdinand Fernandez, a Latino. There are two other judges of Asian ancestry on the Los Angeles federal bench, Judge Robert M. Takasugi and Wallace A. Tashima, both of Japanese-American heritage and both appointed by former President Jimmy Carter.