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Adachi Sworn Into Public Defender’s Office

Jeff Adachi taking the oath of office with San Francisco Superior Court Judge Donald Mitchell. Photo by May Chow.

After a long battle, Adachi promises to focus on work

By May Chow | AsianWeek Staff Writer

Jeff Adachi’s uphill battle for San Francisco’s Office of the Public Defender came to fruition on Friday night with his inauguration at City Hall. Hundreds packed the Legislative Chambers and South Light court to witness what many called history being made.

Applause was in order for Adachi’s inauguration, as speaker after speaker praised Adachi for his compassion and dedication to his work and clients.

“Jeff will do anything for me and our daughter, but he’ll also do anything for his clients,” said Mutsuko, Adachi’s wife. “He had asked me if we could put up our first new car as collateral for one of his clients’ bail.”

Alongside his wife and daughter were Adachi’s family, friends and fans, who ran the gamut from fellow attorneys to San Francisco supervisors to public supporters. Even Ruth Dewson, known as the “hat lady,” wore a special black, fur hat for the occasion.

Back in January, Dewson spearheaded an extemporaneous fundraiser at one of Adachi’s parties, where she took off her hat and dropped $50 in it and encouraged others to join in. At the end of the night, she was able to raise a couple thousand of dollars for Adachi.

Board president Tom Ammiano said Adachi’s campaign came from the heart. He added that even though the public defender race was hotly contested, Adachi ran a class-act race.

“This is very well-deserved for Jeff, and I have undying admiration for him,” said Ammiano.

Ammiano, as well as others, emphasized the importance of Adachi’s role as the people’s lawyer in San Francisco. San Francisco is one of the few cities nationwide that elects its public defender.

“By having a person like Jeff elected to the office, it highlights who and what the public defender’s office is all about,” Ammiano said. “He’s for the people and it’s important for the underdog. The people now have the visibility in the form of Jeff Adachi.”

The office represents some 15,000 clients each year. Peter Keane, now dean of Golden Gate University School of Law said if he wasn’t remembered for anything, he wanted to be remembered for having hired Adachi initially at the public defender’s office.

Adachi worked at the public defender’s office for 15 years taking on such famous cases as the “9-1-1 Killing” and the Lam Choi case, which was featured in a PBS documentary.

As chief attorney for the public defender’s office, many believed that Adachi was next in line for Jeff Brown’s seat, when Brown left to take a seat on the Public Utilities Commission. Instead, Mayor Brown appointed Kimiko Burton-Cruz, daughter of Brown’s political ally and State Senate President John Burton, to head the office in January 2001. On her first day as interim public defender she fired Adachi.

Adachi resumed a private practice and concentrated on his campaign. Although Adachi had many supporters, when it came down to Election Day, many whom Adachi had thought he could rely on for votes turned the other way.

Supervisor Matt Gonzalez noted this at Adachi’s inauguration. “I want to let you guys know that not every day was as happy as this day,” Gonzalez said. “It was a hard fought election and I’m delighted at the outcome. It was a battle during the election.”

Gonzalez said many people turned their backs on Adachi, even longtime supporters. He said certain political influence was too strong and that, in turn, pushed votes the other way.

“I’m going to make the analogy of making sausages,” Gonzalez said. “After coming from the public defender’s office to the board of supervisors, there were things that I saw in politics that I wished I hadn’t. But things are going to be different with Jeff. This election shows the good in politics.”

At 19, Adachi got his start in law when he volunteered in the case of Chol Soo Lee, a Korean immigrant who was convicted of murder. Adachi and a friend decided to follow the case. He was also inspired by his parents and grandparents, who were interned during World War II.

“The same thing that happened to them is happening to many people today,” Adachi said. “It’s a difficult time to defend the public because civil rights has taken tremendous steps backwards in the last couple of years with the PATRIOT Act among other things.”

Adachi has pledged to fight discrimination against non-citizens and to provide interpretative services to those with limited English proficiency so as to preclude any injustice. Adachi said one of his biggest challenges as public defender is how to provide high-quality representation for the office’s clients.

“We have a professional obligation to the people,” Adachi said. “If there’s a budget cut, I can’t tell people to come back next year.”

Adachi also has plans to rework the juvenile justice system, and to work to create a program that prevents children whose parents are incarcerated from continuing the cycle.


Reach May Chow at mchow@asianweek.com.


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