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Fledgling San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi is enjoying a flying start out of the gate. Since taking office in January, he’s made several politically savvy moves that have benefited the public defender’s office and helped move it forward. To begin with, he’s taken steps to help heal the wounds rending the office in the wake of his hard-fought election over Kim Burton. He’s calmed nerves frayed by political divisions by not firing anyone and, in fact, keeping some of Burton’s managers in their jobs. Adachi was kicked out of his No. 2 job in the office by Burton when she was appointed to the job in 2001 by Mayor Willie Brown. Instead of cooling his heels for two years, Adachi appears to have spent the time wisely, building political relationships and apparently strategizing how to handle the PD job should he ever get his hands on it. In office just over three months, Adachi already is a deft player in the San Francisco political game. While Brown is no ally of Adachi’s, the PD has found a way to get along with the mayor — and get what he wants from him. Adachi has worked the system well enough to regain the 11 lawyer positions Kim Burton told the Board of Supervisors last summer that the office did not need. Most importantly, Adachi has done a masterful job of convincing everybody and their brother that spending now on the public defender’s office will save the city more money later. At a time when San Francisco is facing a daunting $350 million deficit and Mayor Brown has requested department heads to make budget cuts across the board, Adachi has persuaded the city to fund more staff for the public defender’s office. With a current budget of $15.5 million, the office has 82 lawyers and 21 support staff, including one paralegal. Adachi wants to grow the office by a whopping 45 percent, adding 18 lawyers, 25 paralegals and 10 investigators over three years. Adachi argues that the additional lawyers and staff will allow the office to refer fewer cases to the conflicts panel, a group of private attorneys that handles cases the public defender cannot. The conflicts panel this year is expected to run $1.2 million over its $6.3 million budget. According to Adachi, spending about $1 million more on public defender staffing will save about $1 million annually in conflicts panel costs. Playing right into Adachi’s hands was an April 11 controller’s office memo, which recommended boosting the public defender’s staff. This week, the mayor gave the green light to at least the first-year installment of Adachi’s three-year plan, OK’ing an additional $1.2 million for the office in fiscal 2003-04 to pay for six attorneys, nine paralegals and two investigators. The plan still needs to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, but even the district attorney likes it. “If it would save us money to have more public defenders, that’s a good argument,” DA Terence Hallinan said last week. We like Adachi’s plan, too — if it delivers on his promises. The additional funding should not go toward anything extraneous, such as remodeling the PD’s offices with cherrywood paneling and jewel-encrusted toilet seats, for example. We also don’t want the funds used to put deputy public defenders in Maureen Kallins’ Marin hot tub under the guise of “training.” Adachi’s spending plan simply must translate into lower conflicts panel costs. Of course, we’ll give him a couple of years to get the new people in place. But two years down the road, we don’t want to hear any excuses — caseloads have increased, cases have become more complicated, blah blah blah — for bloated conflicts panel costs. He asked for the money. He got the money. Now Adachi will have to show us the money.

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