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As he looks ahead to his swearing in Friday, San Francisco Public Defender-elect Jeff Adachi says his top priority is to reduce attorney caseloads; his greatest challenge is to calm the office’s turmoil. Staff attorneys handle up to 100 felonies at any given time, Adachi said, and he plans to ease that burden by filling vacancies, pulling deputies out of the courtroom and pushing more work to the private defense bar. And in the wake of the office’s upheaval since Adachi defeated lame-duck PD Kim Burton in March, he said he plans to establish a “positive, nurturing work environment.” A top trial attorney, Adachi said he will eventually step back into the courtroom to try cases, but probably not until mid-2003 or early 2004. He expects his “pleasant relationship” with District Attorney Terence Hallinan to continue. Adachi admires Hallinan’s relaxed policies for first-time drug possessors and the DA’s reluctance to seek Third Strike convictions. And he promises not to be a “micromanager,” but expects his top lieutenants to run the office so that all who work there feel “they’re part of something.” In a wide-ranging conversation, Adachi outlined his hopes for the office. Q: What’s the greatest challenge you face? A: Our office has been through a lot the past two years. I want to be respectful of that and don’t want to create more turmoil than is necessary. I think that my first priority would be to create a positive, nurturing work environment. . . . I want people to feel they’re part of something. . . . That’s why in my management choices that the people I pick are folks who are going to support the work of the attorneys. . . . I don’t see management in an authoritarian role. Q: Do you have your management team picked? A: Yes, absolutely. I’ll talk to you more about it when I’m in there. If it’s in the paper tomorrow, it causes more turmoil in the office. Q: Does the PD’s office have qualified attorneys to try all the cases that it has? A: It doesn’t have enough attorneys to handle the cases that it has. . . . I looked at all the cases that the office handled on a particular day. . . . I was able to get a snapshot. It was 5,000 cases that the office was handling as of any one day. It was 2,500 misdemeanors and 2,500 felonies. Then what I did was to monitor the cases over a six-month period to see whether or not what I saw on that one day was consistent over a period of time. I found it was. What I discovered when I looked at the distribution of the cases and the number of cases and how they were assigned to the attorneys, we had felony attorneys who were handling as much as 100 felony cases at any given time. I went down to San Diego’s public defender’s office for a few days to study how they did it. They have a caseload standard there so that their lawyers don’t handle more than 25 felony cases at a given time. Q: How would you change that? A: The first goal is to reduce the caseloads. . . . Look at it this way. If you had 100 felony cases and you spent 30 minutes on every case a week, that’s 50 hours of work, if you don’t go to lunch and do anything else related to the job. It’s impossible to do a good job with that many cases. Q: Can’t you refuse cases? A: The public defender is obligated to refuse cases if he or she becomes convinced that the attorneys ethically can no longer provide adequate representation. It’s firmly established in case law and on constitutional grounds. As a result, that is one of the first issues I’m going to study. I’ve been studying it from the outside. Now I need to study it from the inside and determine if there is a need for caseload standards and what should those standards be. Q: Would you pull deputies out of a court to handle the caseload? A: There are two ways to go. Either you get more staff or you pull out. . . .We do need more lawyers. San Diego has three times the population of San Francisco, but has only double the number of felony cases. They have 210 lawyers. They have a support staff of 169 investigators, paralegals, secretaries. We have 82 lawyers, including the PD and the chief attorney. We have 35 in our support staff. We’re either going to have to reduce the number of cases [we take], which will increase the cost of conflicts panel counsel. Or get more staff. Q: So pulling out of a courtroom is a possibility? A: Oh yes. Absolutely. I would do it in a way that would wreak the least amount of havoc on our clients and on the criminal justice system. You don’t want to do it in a way that is harmful. We do it only after consulting with all parties. Q: So you’ll be turning down cases and sending them to the private defense bar? A: I’m saying that’s an alternative. . . . I don’t think that any judge who has any experience can say that a public defender who has 100 felony clients that they’re responsible for at any given time is going to be able to do a good job. Q: How many vacancies in the office? A: Presently we have 82 budgeted attorney positions and there are 76 actually in those positions. So there are six vacancies. Q: Will that continue? A: I’m asking that those positions be filled. . . . I’ve met with the mayor. He has them under consideration. . . . There’s a process you go through and we’re going through that process right now. I’m hopeful. Q: Does it hurt that you defeated his friend’s daughter? A: He’s been very gracious toward me. He expressed to me that the office be run in a professional manner and that we do a good job in representing the clients. That’s what his expectation is and he’ll work with me toward that end. Q: How much money do you need to fill the positions you seek? A: I would guestimate that for the six months of [this] fiscal year, $500,000. Q: Is the office suffering morale problems? A: I’ve heard that from people, that the office has low morale simply because it’s been through this polarization. I’m sure there are good reasons for that. The challenge is getting everybody back to doing the work. . . . I think that people need to feel that they’re going to be supported in their work. It’s not going to be a politicized office. People will not be treated or mistreated because of whom they support politically. Q: Is the office sufficiently diverse, and will you be recruiting more from ethnic groups and women? A: Diversity is always a challenge. In the past there has been a tendency to let diversity come to us, knocking on our door. I think we need to play a more active role in going out in recruiting. That’s one of the things I learned during the campaign. We live in an isolated world at the Hall [of Justice.] You need to go out to the larger community. Q: Will you refuse to grant time waivers in order to get more cases to trial? A: Waiving time is a decision to be made by the clients, not as a matter of policy of the office. . . . I don’t believe there should be a blanket policy one way or the other. What a lawyer should do is explain to the client what the considerations are and ask the client to decide. . . . There are some instances where there’re tactical advantages to be raised by not waiving time. The example would be if you can’t get the district attorney to take appropriate action in the case or if the courts are so clogged that if you do waive time, your case will never get to trial. . . . I do see that as an appropriate tactic for the attorneys to exercise. Q: How do you get along with DA Terrence Hallinan? A: We’ve had our moments. . . . But I have to say he’s always been accommodating when he can be and available. I have a very pleasant relationship with him. Q: Will the relationship become more adversarial? A: I don’t think so. There’s one way you have to be in the courtroom [where] all bets are off and you have to go for it. When you’re doing things on a policy level, you have to work collaboratively. Q: Has he been a good DA for San Francisco? A: Terence has certainly had an impact. . . . Terence’s most significant contribution was his belief that certain categories of persons charged with drug offenses should not be prosecuted as vigorously as before. And not enforcing Three Strikes. I think that’s significant. . . . You could argue which way that has impacted San Francisco. . . . Some people would say that’s why our streets are like they are. And other people would say that’s because we have a more humane criminal justice system in San Francisco. I clearly believe in the latter. Q: Do you have a send-off message for Kim Burton? A: I wish her well. She . . . didn’t indicate what she was going to do. I’m going to try to continue the positive things she put in place in the office. There are a lot of great lawyers that she hired. There’s a DNA program that now is in place. She made positive strides toward reducing the number of young people who were kept in custody at the Youth Guidance Center, because there were no out-of-home placements. . . . The idea is not to go in there to change things just to change things. Q: Someone hired by her is not necessarily on a hit list? A: No, no. In fact, I’ve heard that many of the lawyers who were hired under the current administration are tremendous lawyers. Q: What did you learn while running your campaign that you can apply to the PD job? A: What I learned during the campaign is that the people of San Francisco are very open to what we do. In the beginning people were telling me that people would throw tomatoes at me or they’re going to hate you because you’re representing people charged with crimes. I found just the opposite. People really embraced the idea that a person without money ought to be able to have a good lawyer. I [now] know most of the neighborhood leaders, and community leaders and heads of nonprofits. So I’m able to take those contacts I have and help the public defender’s office. Q: Will you try cases? A: I hope so. I see trying cases six months to a year after I take office. I think the priority for not only me but for the leadership is to make sure that we provide the support that’s necessary. Q: Will you be patient in developing the office? Will you resist your trial lawyer instincts to demand instant results? A: I think that one thing I’ve learned is that the idea is not to create a perfect law office of clones, who are going to all be super trial lawyers. The idea is to create a positive work environment where people who are motivated to be good lawyers can reach their full potential. If you have people . . . who are burned out or not interested or have been accustomed to providing a minimal level of representation, then sure you got to deal with that. Q: You’re known as a perfectionist. Will you be able to rein in your instincts to micromanage? A: That was one of the criticisms that was brought up during the campaign: “Adachi’s a micromanager.” You know what? That was my job as the chief attorney. . . . That’s not my job anymore. That’s the job of the chief attorney. That person will have the responsibility that all parts of the office work well. Q: What’s your job as PD? A: What the public defender is there for is to ensure that the office at all times has leadership. This is a good question. This is the hardest question you asked me. I don’t know going in there. My job as public defender is to look to the future, to look six months to a year, two years, five years, 10 years from now, and look at where the office needs to be. And to take the office there.

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