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Giving S.F. Public Defender Jeff Adachi a Hero's Send-Off

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Editor’s note: We’re reposting this episode of “Scheer Intelligence,” which originally ran on Sept. 28, 2018, as a tribute to Public Defender of San Francisco Jeff Adachi, who died unexpectedly on Feb. 22 in his hometown.  After hearing the news, Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer called Adachi a “true hero” and pointed to Mission Local’s “terrific obit” as a particularly worthy panegyric.

“Jeff Adachi defended the hell out of the public,” wrote Mission Local’s Joe Eskenazi, who also declared that Adachi’s legacy “lives in the people society makes a point of not seeing.” Listen to Scheer’s interview with Adachi to find out why Scheer couldn’t agree more with Eskenazi’s take.

In this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” elected Public Defender of San Francisco Jeff Adachi, whose parents were confined in an Arkansas internment camp during World War II, recalls how he knew that his parents were “in jail” for being Japanese-American and describes how that understanding affected his life. “That experience—that they didn’t have a trial, that there was never any Japanese-American who was charged with espionage—really ingrained in me the notion that you have to fight for your rights,” he says. “It’s not something that you can take for granted.”

Adachi kicks off the conversation by discussing the new bail law in California, which was purportedly designed to make the existing system more fair. But he and other initial backers decided to drop their support when California Gov. Jerry Brown and judicial advisers made substantive changes to it.

For Adachi, the old system offered a way to “buy your freedom,” which seems to run counter to the vaunted ideal of liberty and justice for all, especially since, as he puts it, “85 percent of the people who are behind bars are there because they cannot post bail.” He opposes the new bill because, he says, it “gives all the power to the judges” to use preventive detention, which precludes the possibility of posting bail and can result in a person sitting in jail indefinitely, even in misdemeanor cases. That strategy is particularly onerous if the person in question is innocent.

Over the course of his career, Adachi has fought for basic constitutional rights and against police and prosecutorial misconduct. “In the immigration court,” he says, “you don’t have the right to a lawyer, even if you’re a child,” so he’s established an immigration unit in the public defender’s office to provide representation to any immigrant who is detained or in custody, including the undocumented and green-card holders.

The discussion takes a lively turn when Adachi suggests that “America at its best is a place where everyone is welcome … [in which] everyone who wants to be part of this great society is able to do that.”

Catch the full episode below:

Robert Scheer
Editor in Chief
Robert Scheer, editor in chief of Truthdig, has built a reputation for strong social and political writing over his 30 years as a journalist. His columns appear in newspapers across the country, and his…
Robert Scheer

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