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Joseph Freitas Jr., a labor lawyer who served as San Francisco district attorney for one eventful term during the 1970s, died Wednesday of lung cancer. He was 66 years old. “He was like a lot of us during the ’60s who decided that a lot of things needed to be changed,” said John Anderson, a partner with Neyhart Anderson Flynn & Grosboll. Freitas and Anderson worked for opposing candidates in a U.S. Senate Democratic primary before the two men became law partners at the firm in San Francisco in 1972. “He had a fire in his belly.” That “’60s fire,” as Anderson called it, probably fed Freitas’ love of politics, his foray into criminal prosecution and his choice to practice labor law. “He’s a mover and shaker. That’s what he likes,” said longtime friend Karen Kleid. Social, quick-witted and “a fabulous cook,” his network of friends extended from Europe, where he and his wife had a second home, to South America, Kleid said. He is credited with bringing some positive changes to the district attorney’s office. After taking over in 1976, former colleagues say Freitas made a concerted effort to hire more women and minorities in what had been a predominantly white, male institution. They also recall he nearly doubled the size of his staff, built up the consumer fraud unit with new vigor, and initiated the office’s early experiments with victim services and diversion, which are now established parts of the local district attorney’s repertoire. “He was a person that really � took advantage of the transition that was going on in San Francisco,” said former Public Defender Jeff Brown, who took office himself near the end of Freitas’ term. In addition to putting more emphasis on areas like consumer fraud and environmental prosecutions, Brown said Freitas focused on violent felonies. He tended to de-emphasize so-called victimless crimes, such as gambling and prostitution. “He understood that prosecution was a matter of limited resources and you couldn’t go after every case.” His was not a quiet term. Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley partner James Lassart, a former deputy in the office, remembers being in trial against the New World Liberation Front when someone � it was never proved who � blew up a car in front of Freitas’ house. And then there were the fatal shootings of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, an icon of the gay community, at City Hall. Freitas took a lot of heat after a jury convicted defendant Dan White of voluntary manslaughter, rather than first-degree murder. Many observers blame the public backlash for sinking Freitas’ political career. Linda Klee was one of several former colleagues who credited the former DA for assigning a highly regarded homicide prosecutor, Thomas Norman, to the White case. And some still feel Freitas did not deserve the criticism leveled at him. “There are just some cases where the evidence is so sound,” said Klee, now the office’s chief of administration, “it doesn’t even occur to you that the sympathy [of the jury] could outweigh it.” That case became an issue in the 1979 DA’s campaign, recalls Arlo Smith, who successfully challenged Freitas that year. So, too, did the DA’s handling of allegations of voter fraud by members of the People’s Temple, the group that had carried out an infamous mass suicide a year earlier. Freitas, the son of a postmaster and a 1967 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law, grew up in the Central Valley town of Atwater. He spent parts of his early career working for the Bay Area Urban League, and then did stints as a White House fellow and as publisher of Washington Monthly magazine, according to his daughter Clare Freitas. He also delved into politics, working on campaigns for John Tunney, who was running for U.S. Senate, and for presidential hopeful Edmund Muskie. He left a job as West Coast director of Common Cause in 1972 to join Neyhart Anderson in San Francisco. He took a leave of absence to serve as district attorney, but otherwise remained a name partner until recently, when he fully transitioned into arbitration work for the American Arbitration Association. His clients included unions for public-transportation drivers, clerks and mechanics, Anderson said. “He was a dynamic personality and charismatic, and people were just naturally attracted to him,” Anderson said. But despite his political talent, Anderson added, Freitas couldn’t shake the residual effects of the White case. After losing out to Smith for district attorney and returning to private practice, he later mounted one more campaign in 1992 for state Senate, but was soundly beaten by incumbent Milton Marks. But Freitas found other ways to serve, Kleid said. He and his late wife, Douce Francois Freitas, sat on the board of a foundation in Chile, originally established by Douce’s aunt, to benefit a hospital that offers free treatment to cancer patients in Latin America. He also sat on the board of the Rudolf Nureyev Foundation in London, which supports performance dancing, Kleid added. “He was interested in a better life for people.” Freitas is survived by a brother, Stephen Freitas, as well as four children, Matthew Freitas of Amarillo, Texas; Clare Freitas of Albany, N.Y.; Clementine Freitasof Golden, Colo.; and Joshua Freitas of San Francisco. He will be buried in Paris this weekend next to his wife, who died of cancer a year ago, according to friends and family. They also plan to hold a memorial for him in San Francisco, but have not yet scheduled the service.

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