Hundreds of people mourning the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi packed City Hall Monday morning to remember his legacy as the city's first Asian American elected to the position.
During the memorial, city leaders and Adachi's close friends and family members shared their intimate memories of him. Adachi, 59, died on Feb. 22 after having dinner with a friend in North Beach. Police have ruled out foul play in the death.
"I first met Jeff Adachi when I was 15 years old," said Mayor London Breed, who grew up in public housing in the city's Western Addition neighborhood.
"A friend of mine had been arrested, and I went to her home to check on her family. Sitting at the dining room table at my friend's home was a guy who definitely wasn't from our community," Breed said.
"It turned out to be a young lawyer, a young deputy public defender. That's how I met Jeff, not at a political event or fundraiser, not when I was an elected official, but at a dining room table, trying to help
someone in my community," she said. "Everyone knew that Jeff was here to help. Everyone knew that Jeff cared about our community and our community cared about Jeff."
Breed said, "Jeff led the way on progressive policy reforms, from reducing recidivism, ending cash bail to standing up for undocumented and unrepresentative people.
She said, "This past weekend was so hard for so many of us. Jeff was my friend ... but even more than that, Jeff was a champion for my community."
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown echoed the current mayor in his remarks about Adachi.
"He was a standup friend and a talented lawyer. He chose to be a criminal defense lawyer in the public sector and not in the private," Brown said. "He was a strong advocate for every aspect of what ought to be rights of all people."
Adachi's younger brother Stan Adachi also spoke to the crowd.
"Jeff gave us strength," he said. "I come here before you today, like all of you, with a heavy heart and profound sadness as we say goodbye to Jeff. I think it's appropriate that we are here in San Francisco, in the heart of San Francisco, where Jeff made a career among the city, the community, and the people that my brother loved and cared for so deeply."
Adachi was credited with advocating for the reform of the state's cash-bail system and with calling out alleged injustices happening within San Francisco's police and sheriff's departments, including allegations of abuse at the city's jails and racist text messages sent between police officers. He was also known for advocating for the families of victims of police shootings.
The state's only elected public defender, Adachi was first elected in 2002. He attended University of California at Berkeley and graduated from UC Hastings College of the Law.
Starting in 1987 as deputy public defender in the San Francisco office, Adachi went on to become a five-time elected public defender for the city, and was known for innovation and improving work conditions for deputy public defenders.