Reflections on Jeff Adachi, a Public Defender Hero
Late Friday night, I scrolled my twitter feed per usual to discover shocking news: San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi had died at the young age of 59. In the several hours since that devastating discovery, I’ve read every tribute paid Jeff that I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while climbing out of my initially numb state to process and distill my thoughts about a public defender inspiration, visionary and leader lost without warning.
I hope you’ll indulge me as I ruminate on Jeff Adachi. Perhaps you’ll share some of your own reflections with me and the world as we attempt to heal together from this crippling loss.
- Before I had ever met the man, Jeff Adachi kindled an unbridled public defender pride deep in my being. In my Santa Clara County Public Defender’s office, about 45 minutes south of where he worked, I stood in awe of and emboldened by Jeff Adachi, THE San Francisco Public Defender. He carried the title and shield of Public Defender with spirit, bravado, suave and courage- he made the job cool. Jeff stood tall and proud as a public defender, telling and showing the world and me that we aren’t weak, we are warriors, that we aren’t pushovers, we are powerful, that we aren’t dump trucks, we are diligent, dogged trial lawyers, that we aren’t in the government’s pockets, we are the government’s worst nightmare, and in turn, the greatest check against tyranny.
- It was not lost on me that Jeff was an Asian-American elected to hold the prestigious, lofty and powerful post of Public Defender in San Francisco, one of the largest metropolises in the country. He had busted his way through the glass ceiling of the quiet, model minority. He forged a path for me, an up and coming South Asian American public defender, to unabashedly pursue this career and calling of public service and indigent criminal defense, to unapologetically roar for the rights and humanity of the criminally accused, to boldly take my seat in the courtroom next to our beloved clients.
- Jeff Adachi was a public defender pioneer, taking our fight for the overlooked, demonized and marginalized beyond the courtroom and into the public arena, utilizing the power of media and mass information to tell our clients’ stories and to dismantle and shift the narratives that form the infrastructure of the mass incarceration epidemic. He carved out a space in this universe for the voice of public defenders to echo from courthouses to county buildings, to state capitals and into our collective human consciousness.
- Even though I was a fellow UC Berkeley and UC Hastings alum and a Bay Area public defender since 2008, I didn’t meet Jeff Adachi until 2015 at a public defender conference at Berkeley Law. I introduced myself to Jeff at lunchtime and he immediately commented that he had seen some of my public defender related writing before, urged that I keep it up and asked that I email him some of my essays. We exchanged business cards and I, later that afternoon, sent him links to my collection of pubic defense articles. He replied the next morning,“Thanks Sajid! I enjoyed meeting you as well. I’d be interested in what you thought of the conference. Thank you for advocating for us in the mass media! Best, Jeff” Simple, succinct words but so validating, affirming and inspiring, especially coming from my Asian-American, public defender hero, Jeff Adachi.
- Rest In Peace, Jeff Adachi. A public defender hero, leader and pioneer gone much too soon. Even though I didn’t know you well, I’m hurting today because I’ve lost a piece of me. I vow to honor your legacy by, like you, battling in the courtroom and beyond to restore the humanity of the criminally accused, breathe life into the constitution and throw my body on the gears of mass incarceration machine.
Jeff Adachi, San Francisco Public Defender