Mayor London Breed has named an insider at the Public Defender’s Office as the next public defender of San Francisco.
Manohar Raju, a longtime public defender and the manager of the Felony Unit, will succeed the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Raju is known as one of the best trial attorneys in the office.
Breed announced her decision Monday at an 8 a.m. meeting with staff from the Public Defender’s Office, according to sources at the meeting. An hour and a half later, the mayor publicly announced the appointment to officials and reporters at City Hall.
“We are never going to be able to replace Jeff Adachi but we can build on that legacy,” Breed said. “I am confident that we found someone to do that.”
The appointment came as a relief to staff who feared that the mayor would choose an outsider who might shake up the office. Raju joined the office more than a decade ago and is similar to Adachi in his views on criminal justice reform and the need for racial justice.
“We’re very blessed that the appointment stayed in house,” Raju said. “I’m different than Jeff so there will be some changes in processes… but the core of what we do, the mission, that’s not going anywhere.”
Raju will serve in the interim until voters elect a permanent public defender in November. He is expected to run uncontested in the race, but first must move from Oakland back to San Francisco.
Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney under Adachi, was as a favorite for the job.
Gonzalez is a former supervisor who lost a close race for mayor against current Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2003. A veteran of the office, he drew national attention when he successfully defended an undocumented immigrant accused of murder in the death of Kate Steinle in 2017.
But Gonzalez and Breed have not always been on the same side of politics, as he previously endorsed her opponent for supervisor.
After Adachi died, Gonzalez said he would be honored if Breed named him as successor. But Gonzalez said Monday that he told the mayor more than a week ago that he was not interested in the position. He plans to remain in the office and to not run for public defender in November.
“I’ve never been concerned about this transition,” Gonzalez said. “Mano is just a terrific choice and I could not be happier.”
Francisco Ugarte, managing attorney of the office’s Immigration Defense Unit, called the appointment “admirable.”
“The fear was that someone would come from the outside and have us change our jobs,” Ugarte said. “We were very concerned.”
Peter Santina, a former deputy public defender in San Francisco, worked with Raju for years before leaving the office a year ago.
“I just remember him being a really phenomenal trial attorney,” Santina said. “He was able to bring out his clients perspectives in the cases and really bring them front and center in the courtroom.”
The appointment comes two weeks after the sudden death of Adachi, who suffered an apparent heart attack Feb. 22 at a Telegraph Hill apartment.
Adachi had served as public defender since 2003. He was elected to a fifth term in office just last November.
His supporters remember him as a fighter for police accountability who also greatly expanded the budget of the Public Defender’s Office and represented clients on charges as serious as murder in the courtroom.
Raju is expected to be sworn into office in the coming weeks.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information.