I have over 35 years of experience as a defense attorney. For 19 of those years I served in the Public Defender’s Office, and 16 years as a private criminal defense attorney. I have tried over 60 cases in state, federal and juvenile court, including eight murder trials to verdict.
For six years I co-managed 52 attorneys in the felony trial unit under Jeff Adachi’s leadership and implemented the office’s first system for tracking and balancing caseloads. I mentored dozens of young attorneys and interns, co-chaired the Racial Justice Committee, and for the last seven years I have worked on developing policies for police department reform.
In addition, while at the Public Defenders’ Office, I started the first Bail Unit, and the office’s first Homicide Unit. Along with my trial work and supervision of felony attorneys, I also worked in the Research & Writing Unit. I managed the Collaborative & Specialty Courts Unit during the first 16 months of the pandemic. I put together the office’s first Preliminary Hearing training manual, put on numerous trial skills trainings and developed two seminars on Client-Centered Representation from a Racial Justice perspective. I forged collaborative working relationships with public defenders in other Bay Area counties and started Public Defenders for Racial Justice with Assistant Public Defender Jane Brown of Alameda County. In 2021, Jane and I conducted statewide (Zoom) trainings on AB 2542, the Racial Justice Act. I also served on the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Criminal Justice Task Force.
As a result of this trial, management, mentoring and policy experience, I have the trust and credibility to shift the office culture back to a focus on client-centered representation and to develop a diverse and experienced management staff that is capable of the leadership and mentorship tasks required of them.
If elected, I would be the first woman elected to the position of Public Defender and the first Chinese-American in San Francisco’s history.
Why I am Running
Over the last three years, since Jeff Adachi’s passing, I have watched the famed San Francisco Public Defender’s Office lose sight of its core mission at the expense of quality representation of its clients in the Criminal Justice system. It has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with the incumbent’s loss of focus on the Office’s core mission of providing the best defense that money can’t buy.
The incumbent has increased the management staff from 11 to 19, in some cases removing younger, inexperienced attorneys from the trial rotation and putting them in supervision over senior attorneys who have many more years of experience handling the most serious cases. As a result of this inverted pyramid structure, caseloads for felony rotation attorneys have skyrocketed. The current average caseload is 77 cases, and some attorneys have over 100 felony cases. (In March 2019, the average felony caseload was 50 cases.) Burdensome and unmanageable caseloads lead to ineffective representation and burned-out attorneys. Clients KNOW when their public defender is unprepared and/or has too much work to focus on their case. Compounding this scenario of under-experienced upper-level management, resentment is building amongst the demoralized staff. Three Chief Attorneys are commanding tremendous salaries but have never done a jury trial or haven’t tried a case to jury in 35 years.
Jeff Adachi worked tirelessly to build the Public Defender’s Office into the nationwide model for the delivery of indigent defense services. Public Defenders from across the United States either asked Jeff to come speak at their offices or visited San Francisco to see how the office was structured and managed in order to learn how Jeff kept his staff zealously dedicated to the office mission.
Currently, many lawyers and staff members are demoralized, and I have heard in their stories and their plea for a change in leadership.
I am the child of an immigrant from China (father) and the descendant of a signer to the Declaration of Independence (mother.) I am the second eldest daughter of six children and was born and raised in Harlem, and Levittown, NY. It wasn’t unusual for me to watch my father perform in the NYC Peking Opera on Saturday night and the next morning watch my mother sing in the church choir during Sunday service.
When we moved to Levittown, I confronted unrelenting racial prejudice and struggled to overcome the injuries to my psyche caused by irrational and physically threatening racial hatred. These contrasting influences planted the seeds of my future as a racial justice warrior. Racial intolerance is anathema to my being and the need for racial justice is not an abstraction.
My experiences as a working, single mother- starting when my two sons were eight and fourteen years old - uniquely qualifies me to understand the continuing barriers and challenges facing women and women of color in the workplace. My personal experiences inform my management of anyone facing work/life challenges in a stressful job. I know that women work twice as hard for half the notice that men receive. This is just as true under the two men currently leading the Public Defender office. If I am elected, this implicit bias would end at once.
My Plans if I am Elected
If elected, I would:
- Make sure the lawyers are prepared to handle the cases being assigned to them and that they have the resources they need to thrive as people and advocates;
- Restore Jeff’s model of zealous advocacy tempered by experience & integrity;
- Commit to increasing diversity in the office with training to develop the next generation of leaders;
- Stay connected to the communities that the Public Defender serves;
- Work with our justice partners to eliminate racial inequality in outcomes and pretrial detention;
- Acknowledge to all staff (not only the lawyers) that their contributions & their experience matters.
This all seems so obvious, but it is not what is happening now.
I am committed to leading the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office with the utmost integrity, remaining involved in the community, and instilling an inclusive model of leadership that prepares the next generation of attorneys and managers to maintain the high standards that Jeff Adachi cultivated.
I plan to win in November but winning elected office does not happen without the financial support of the community and people like you who understand the importance of quality representation of all who come before our Courts.
I humbly ask for your support and that you contribute to my campaign to restore and rejuvenate the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. While the election is November 8, your support now is crucial to get my grassroots campaign up and running. I thank you in advance for your help and look forward to meeting you during my campaign!
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