fierce advocate for clients and racial justice, creative communicator for clients
inducted into the Public Defense Hall of Fame on April 18, 2019
Jeff Adachi served as the Public Defender of the City and County of San Francisco before his untimely death in 2019. Mr. Adachi was a leader in the movement to shine a light on racial injustice, both by engaging the community and lending his office’s support to community advocacy, protest and ancillary social services, as well as elevating the actual trial skills of public defenders around the country to address racial bias at every state of the criminal process. Significantly, Mr. Adachi was a well-known mentor and inspiration not only to his colleagues in leadership, but to hundreds of line defender, social workers and investigators around the country. He was also known for his creative advocacy, including his extensive media work, which included hiring one of the country’s first full-time communications professionals to work within a public defender’s office, his legendary annual reports and related materials, his filmmaking, his fearless use of social media to bring accountability to other agencies in his local justice system, and his vision for transforming the public’s perception of public defense, which he detailed in a manifesto called “The Six Stratagems.” He was a founding member of the National Association for Public Defense and served on its Steering Committee. Before being elected as public defender in March 2002, Mr. Adachi worked as a deputy public defender in San Francisco for fifteen years and in private practice for two years. From 1998 to 2001, he served as the chief attorney of the office. He tried over one hundred fifty jury trials, including numerous serious felony and homicide cases, and handled over three thousand criminal matters throughout his career, including some of the Bay Area’s highest profile cases. As the only elected public defender in the state of California, and one of few elected public defenders in the United States, Mr. Adachi oversaw an office of ninety-three lawyers and sixty support staff. The office represents over twenty-three thousand people each year who are charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses. In 2019, the office had a $25 million budget, and provided a panoply of innovative programs to its clients, including drug court, “Clean Slate” expungement services, and a full-service juvenile division. The office also has one of the country’s top intern programs for law students and graduates.
Mr. Adachi served on the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigents and was a member of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is the co-author of “Chapter 25: Immunity for Testimony,” in the California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice book, and a past board member of the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the San Francisco Bar Association. He was past president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area and the San Francisco Japanese American Citizens League. He was a certified criminal law specialist since 1991. Mr. Adachi has also taught with BAR/BRI bar review for fifteen years and has published five books on passing the bar exam.
Mr. Adachi has received multiple awards and accolades for his work. He has gotten the California State Bar Association’s Hufstedler Award for public service, the Asian American Bar Association’s Joe Morozumi Award for exceptional legal advocacy, and was honored by the Asian American Bar Association of the Silicon Valley. He also received the Mayor’s Fiscal Advisory Committee’s Managerial Excellence Award, the California Public Defender Association’s Program of the Year Award, and the American Bar Association’s national Dorsey Award for excellence in public defense. He was also the recipient of the prestigious California Lawyer Attorney of the Year award (CLAY) for his work in the field of prisoner reentry.
He graduated from Hastings College of the Law in 1985 and attended undergraduate studies at U.C. Berkeley. His legacy of advocacy will never cease to inspire us, will continue to lead us forward and will always be remembered.
We invite you to donate in the name of a Member of the Hall of Fame for future Creative Advocacy Grants, scholarships or technical assistance.