UC Hastings Mourns Passing of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi ’85

  • Alumni

"He was a passionate defender of those that needed defending most."

UC Hastings College of the Law Chancellor and Dean David Faigman issued the following message on the passing of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi ‘85:

Dear UC Hastings Community,

Like everyone who knew him, or knew about him, I was devastated to learn that our good friend San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi died (Friday, Feb. 22). Jeff had dedicated his life to public service, beginning in the Public Defender’s Office shortly after graduating from UC Hastings in 1985. He was a passionate defender of those that needed defending most. And he inspired others to do the same.

Jeff was a proud Hastings LEOP graduate, someone who never hesitated to give back to his alma mater. He was our honored speaker at this past year’s Convocation, where his words electrified our community at the start of the new academic year. He spoke about the need for law students to find something they believed in. Members of the legal profession, he said, served both their clients and society. He advised the audience of beginning lawyers to not simply sit back and represent the interests that came to them as advocates, but to reach out and advocate for those interests that most needed representation.

Jeff lived those words. In his position as SF Public Defender, he took on both individual cases and sought to change the system where it perpetuated injustice. His lodestar was always the fundamental constitutional principles of fairness and equity. He fought to empower those with little or no power, to provide opportunity to those with little or no opportunity, and to ensure that the rule of law was adhered to by those charged with enforcing the law. He believed in the human spirit and kindled that belief in those around him.

The picture above was taken just a few weeks ago. It captures Jeff’s energy. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a bit of mischief about him. He was a character in the best sense of that term. He had a charisma that brightened every room that he entered, and seemingly a spotlight that followed his every step. It is no surprise that he extended his reach to documentary filmmaking, where he was able to reach a broad audience for his message of the need for justice to redress racial inequities in the criminal justice system. One could imagine him being as comfortable walking down a red carpet as walking down the center aisle of a San Francisco courtroom. He was truly accomplished, as a lawyer and as a person.

The wonderful picture of Jeff was taken to honor him at an upcoming event in May called “GameChanger,” at which many of our most extraordinary graduates will be honored. Jeff was always at the top of that list. Indeed, the event’s name could have been inspired by Jeff’s career.

I was incredibly fortunate to have gotten to know Jeff well over the years. He was a frequent guest at Hastings and was incredibly devoted to his alma mater. He mentored Hastings students throughout his career, inspiring generations of law students to enter public service. Just this past year, he volunteered to serve on a committee planning the celebration for LEOP’s 50th Anniversary. He attended virtually every meeting of that Committee and was full of ideas—from the proper venue for such an important event to what bands would be best to celebrate LEOP’s fifty years—on how to honor LEOP’s past and ensure its continued success.

Jeff will be deeply missed. Our hearts go out to Jeff’s family and his wide circle of friends. He was in the prime of his life (just 59 years-of-age). He accomplished so much, and had so much yet to do. We will honor Jeff among the other “gamechangers” in May, and, as an institution, will find other ways to honor his memory, as well as to continue his struggle to ensure justice for those most in need.

It is a sad day. The legal profession has lost one of its best.

With a heavy heart,
David Faigman