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Adachi leaves ‘very big shoes to fill’ as public defender — and now it’s up to Breed to fill them

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Mayor London Breed administers the oath of office for San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, with his wife, Mutsuko, at his side at the Public Defender’s Office on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

On Guard column header Joe

Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s death is a loss for all of San Francisco — I need to start with that.

But though many in The City are still in mourning the loss of Adachi, 59, to an apparent heart attack Friday, people awaiting trial still need adequate legal defense no matter their economic status.

With that hard reality, people are already floating names for Mayor London Breed to consider when she appoints a replacement for Adachi — and one of those names could potentially help clear the path for Breed’s pick for the upcoming District Attorney’s race.

There are the obvious choices, like Public Defender’s Office Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez, the former supervisor and former mayoral candidate who was Adachi’s second-in-command. Gonzalez has taken over the day-to-day operations of the Public Defender’s Office in the interim until an appointment is made.

Though it doesn’t exactly take a clairvoyant to see this happening, insiders confirmed to me that many are heartily recommending Gonzalez to The Mayor’s Office for appointment, and that Breed’s office is actively exploring choices even now.

“I would be honored to be asked,” Gonzalez told me Monday. “But I would say also, genuinely, that you know if she makes another appointment I’m going to work to make that transition a good one.”

It’s good he feels that way, as there are other names insiders told me are already bubbling up from the criminal justice community: Chesa Boudin, a deputy public defender who is now running for District Attorney, and Niki Solis, a deputy public defender who ran for superior court judge last June.

But that doesn’t mean people aren’t recommending him to Breed. From a political perspective, there are pluses to all three choices: Gonzalez served ten years as a deputy public defender before jumping into politics, and has worked for eight years as chief attorney in the Public Defender’s Office.

His transition would likely be seamless, and his wealth of experience is undeniable.

Solis has 21 years of experience as a deputy public defender, and as an out lesbian who is part black and part Latina, would also provide strong representation for communities often wronged by the criminal justice system.

Then we have Boudin. Aside from his own experience and credentials in the Public Defender’s Office, his appointment would also be a twofer for Breed — his appointment would potentially appease some SF progressives (though others are certainly stumping for long-time progressive Gonzalez), while also clearing the way for Breed’s favored DA candidate, former police commissioner Suzy Loftus.

Loftus is facing two candidates from her left, Leif Dautch and Boudin. Take Boudin off the board by appointing him to the Public Defender’s office, and suddenly Loftus has just one opponent left.

That’s not to say defeating Dautch would be a cakewalk. Loftus has $127,000 in her campaign coffers as of the last public campaign filings in late January, while Dautch had $99,000 on hand. Loftus has far more name recognition in San Francisco, but Dautch is hungry.

Boudin told me Monday, of Adachi, “it’s a big loss to the city and the criminal justice community, those are very big shoes to fill and he will making a lasting impact for generations to come.”

I asked Loftus for her opinion on the matter Monday, but she said she is focused on mourning the loss of Adachi. Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, had a similar response.

“The mayor is still grieving, she’s focusing on the loss of Jeff and honoring his work. She will be making an appointment,” Cretan said.

She is still grieving. So are we all.

* * *
Much has been gleaned about Adachi’s final hours
from a police incident report from that fateful night, which was leaked to a number of journalists.

Let me say upfront: the degree that some journalists have focused on whether or not Adachi was in the romantic company of a woman is really tasteless.

Rumors flew like crazy in the wake of Adachi’s death, Friday. I heard many of them myself over the weekend. It is also the duty of all journalists, columnists and reporters alike, to seek the truth.

But there’s a distinction between what information benefits the public, and what information causes too much private harm to Adachi’s family, without passing the smell test of What The Public Needs to Know. The police report recounts some of those details, including what was found at the scene, which you can see in other news reports but I will not detail here.

Here are some genuine questions we can all glean from the now-widely leaked police report:

What pill did Adachi take before his death? The report details that he had two glasses of wine, had a “stomach ache” then “took a pill and was now not breathing.” Was it something as benign as Advil, or something that compounded health problems? An impending toxicology report may eventually answer that question.

Did emergency officials err in calling off the cops from the scene of Adachi’s death? The police report clearly states that after San Francisco Police Department officers were headed to the scene, “while enroute, we were notified by dispatch that we were no longer needed and the call was cancelled.”

To some degree this is normal, I’m told, as once the Medical Examiner’s Office and medical personnel are present, they may determine a case doesn’t warrant police. But clearly SFPD thought differently, as they arrived to investigate the Telegraph Hill apartment Adachi died in that night anyway.

Sadly, the answer to the first question — and perhaps more — do involve finding the mysterious woman who accompanied Adachi on the night of his death, now known only by the name “Catalina” (but described in the police report as “Caterina”). Reports claim the SFPD is already speaking with her, and there are legitimate questions connected to Adachi’s death she may be able to answer.

The police report also reveals Catalina was left alone in the Telegraph Hill apartment after Adachi’s death, prior to SFPD’s arrival, at least according to the landlord.

These are all questions journalists and government officials should seek to answer, and it is certainly true that some of those details are woven into the facts the public should be told. It is a delicate balance.

I am worried, however, that in San Francisco journalists’ zeal to seek those answers, they may pull on the thread’s of Adachi’s personal life and unravel the lives of loved ones he left behind instead.

Frankly, that’s just news pornography — and it’s just plain wrong.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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