By Matt Gonzalez
I have been closely associated with the San Francisco Public Defender office for over three decades, including serving for the past decade as the chief attorney of the office. I am proud to have played an integral part in building what many believe is the best public law office in the United States. As one of the office’s most active trial attorneys throughout the 1990s and as the chief attorney under Jeff Adachi, and now Mano Raju, I have intimate knowledge of the office’s history, budget, and the workings of the many units including its trial units. I say without hesitation that the office is in very capable hands under Mano Raju’s leadership and that anyone who cares about justice and providing the highest quality of legal representation should support his re-election.
In my opinion, quite simply, the office is stronger now than at any other point in the over 30 years that I have been closely acquainted with it. Morale is high, the quality of representation is unparalleled, and the office is leading important initiatives throughout the state.
When I first started in the office, during Jeff Brown’s tenure as Public Defender, the office had major gaps in the services it provided and had yet to set standards for legal representation. For instance, there were no paralegals or social workers employed by the office (nor were there any efforts to secure these positions). I do not recall attending any training held by the office leadership and the quality of representation was uneven at best. Low performing staff faced little or no repercussions for failing to meet basic expectations. As a result the office had a mediocre reputation.
Under Jeff Adachi’s leadership the office’s budget expanded and these shortcomings were rectified because of basic reforms Jeff implemented, including the utilization of performance evaluations. I worked alongside Jeff as an attorney throughout the 1990s and later as his longest serving chief attorney, during which time (according to Jeff) I helped deliver two of the office’s biggest victories, both as a trial lawyer (in People vs Garcia Zarate, a case of national importance) and winning an appeal that solidified important defense rights (in People vs Landers, a case originating with Mano Raju’s trial advocacy). I’m proud of the office we built. During that time Mano was recruited from the Contra Costa Public Defender’s Office to work in the office. Because of his exceptional litigation and trial practice, he was promoted to Training Director and later a Felony Trial Unit Manager, where he excelled in all respects and helped improve the practice of individual members of our staff and the office as a whole. Now, Mano leads the office as Public Defender and in the last few years has continued the positive direction of the office. Specifically, he is credited with securing the largest budget growth the office has ever experienced.
As a result, there has been an expansion of the felony trial unit, more paralegals, social workers, and investigators, and we have spearheaded amendments to gang laws and post-conviction procedures at the state legislature. Under Mano’s leadership, we are launching innovative programs such as an End the Cycle Program connecting clients with services, the Be the Jury Project providing low-income individuals the ability to serve on juries, expanding our Clean Slate services so that clients can clean their records to access employment opportunities, and providing paid high school internships so that students can have exposure to the different facets of our work. Mano has also strengthened the management of the office, placing high performing leaders in positions that have enhanced the office’s decision-making process. The new management structure takes into account Mano’s ambitious vision of proactive, community-informed policy efforts to uplift our most vulnerable community members, and reflects the office’s continued growth. That management structure is, in fact, streamlined and closely tailored: although it has grown three times in size since when I was first hired, the office still has the least upper management of any other law office in the city (compared to the City Attorney & District Attorney’s offices).
I spoke to Jeff Adachi on a daily basis the last eight years of his life. He had full confidence in Mano. I listened to many conversations between the two that revealed the warmth and high regard Jeff had for Mano’s skill and instincts. Jeff would be very proud of where the office is today.
Not surprisingly, Mano has a wide array of community support. He has been endorsed by: SF Democratic Party, SF Labor Council, SF Women’s Political Committee, SF Chronicle, SF League of Pissed Off Voters, Chinese American Democratic Club, SF Latinx Democratic Club, SF Bayview National Black Newspaper, Sierra Club, SF Tenants Union, United Educators of San Francisco, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club, and Rose Pak Democratic Club, among many others.
I previously served as the president of the Board of Supervisors and worked on measures strengthening ethics laws and legislation expanding worker and immigrant rights so I am well acquainted with the challenges facing policy makers and department heads in our city. I am proud to serve with Mano and my respect and admiration has only grown the last few years. During a nationally difficult time coping with a health pandemic, when many departments were simply trying to stay afloat, Mano was able to guide the office to new levels of excellence in many different areas. He deserves to be re-elected.
Matt Gonzalez is Chief Attorney in the SF Public Defender’s Office. Originally Published in the Matt Gonzalez Reader.