Public Safety & Justice

San Francisco's Populist Public Defender

Public defenders are often seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of local government: They get respect from neither the prosecutor-loving public nor other public officials. Not...
by | February 1, 2010

Public defenders are often seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of local government: They get respect from neither the prosecutor-loving public nor other public officials. Not Jeff Adachi, though. When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed a $1.9 million cut to his $23 million budget, Adachi objected in visible ways, such as mailing out 5,000 post cards adorned with images of a public defender action hero, proclaiming the necessity of his office. More soberly, Adachi also explained that the cuts would force him to farm out 9,000 cases per year to more expensive private counsel.

Adachi's feisty response came as no surprise. During his eight-year tenure, Adachi hasn't hesitated to tangle with public officials who crossed him. When the city created a new court to handle cases in the Tenderloin, San Francisco's red-light district and the focus of a recent cleanup effort, Adachi refused, saying his 93 attorneys were too busy. Eventually he agreed to provide legal defenses there himself.

Adachi's antics have frustrated officials in the mayor's office, who insist that in the current fiscal situation, everyone must live within their means. But Adachi disagrees. The Public Defender's Office, he said, is the only department constitutionally obligated to perform its function. Most San Franciscans seem to agree. Observers expect Adachi to be easily re-elected in 2010. Unless, that is, he runs for another office altogether-the mayor's office.

John Buntin
John Buntin  |  staff writer
jbuntin@governing.com  | 

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