Insiders at Public Defender’s office breathe ‘sigh of relief’ at selection of one of their own

Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez says he ‘could not be happier’ at ascension of his former intern and client Raju; claims he took himself out of running for top job


Mayor London Breed accompanied her choice for Public Defender, Manohar “Mano” Raju, to an 8 a.m. all-hands meeting at the Public Defender’s office today, prior to Raju’s public introduction at City Hall at 9:30 on the Mayor’s Balcony.

Raju, who has more than 20 years of legal experience, is a veteran attorney in the Public Defender’s office, where he previously managed its felony unit. He is respected within the department as a crack trial attorney who has amassed an impressive string of acquittals and/or successful defenses in homicide cases. Members of the Public Defender’s office expressed a “sigh of relief” at his selection: Raju is viewed as someone who will continue the late Jeff Adachi’s mission of aggressive defense of the indigent. As a longtime office insider, he is familiar with the culture within the department — and, it seems likely that he won’t clean house in one of the most successful corners of San Francisco government.

Matt Gonzalez will, presumably, remain in his position of chief attorney. Others within the office expressed optimism that they, too, would retain their positions.

Adachi, who had served as public defender since 2003 and transformed the office into perhaps the nation’s finest, died suddenly on Feb. 22. It soon became resplendently clear that while Gonzalez, Adachi’s hand-picked No. 2 since 2011, had his supporters within the office and even with in City Hall, he was not to be Breed’s selection. Gonzalez preceded Breed as District 5 supervisor and, Mission Local is told, Breed was not a pleased constituent — and constituent service was not known as Gonzalez’s hallmark as supervisor. Gonzalez, additionally, has never been a political supporter of Breed, in any of her races.

Raju, however, was viewed by his peers as a deserving selection, regardless of why he was selected: “This is definitely a merit-based choice,” said one.

The new Public Defender comes with the reputation of not being political. But, in the broadest sense, that will soon change. He’ll be up before voters in November — though likely without a serious challenger.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Mano Raju will be sworn in after he moves from Oakland into San Francisco. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez

Update, 10:40 a.m.: Public Defender to-be Manohar “Mano” Raju today thanked Mayor London Breed for appointing an internal candidate to lead the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office — namely him. “We are very blessed with this appointment to stay in-house,” he told a small City Hall crowd composed in large part of city luminaries. “If you haven’t been in our shoes, if you haven’t been in the tanks at 850 Bryant, if you haven’t invested the hours we have to find a witness, knocking on doors for the ninth time … then you can’t have the deep understanding of what we do, day-in, day-out.”

Raju noted that “I’m different than Jeff,” and hinted at “changes in processes.” But he assured those present that the overall “mission” of the public defender’s office “isn’t going anywhere.” And, as this is an in-house hire, he is unlikely to wantonly tinker with the personnel. Asked if he planned to keep on Matt Gonzalez as chief attorney, he quickly answered “yes.”

Gonzalez told the crowd he “could not be happier,” and noted that “Mayor Breed has always been a friend not just of Jeff Adachi but our office.” Gonzalez described Raju — his former intern and, later, client — as perhaps the finest trial attorney he’s ever worked with.

Raju will be up for election in November. He will not face Gonzalez, who told Mission Local that he has no plans to run for this or any office. “Around 10 days ago, I told the mayor’s office to not consider me,” he said today. “I have the perfect job for me. … I’m not so sure I’m a good politician, candidly.” He believes his skills lie elsewhere. “I am a very fine trial attorney and I mentor younger attorneys. … I am looking forward to working with Mano and I think he’s looking forward to working with me, too.”

The city’s next public defender first bumped into Gonzalez more than 20 years ago in a Mission District bookstore. Gonzalez asked the Berkeley School of Law student to drop by the Public Defender’s office, where he subsequently landed an internship under Gonzalez. Fast-forwarding to January, Gonzalez represented Raju in the Court of Appeal in a precedent-setting case. Raju had been fined $950 by a Superior Court judge for declining to turn over to prosecutors the statements of a witness he had no intention of calling to testify. Gonzales successfully argued that Raju was under no obligation to disclose such information in a win being celebrated by defense attorneys statewide. “I was so confident the fine would be rescinded that I paid it myself,” Gonzalez said today. “When that case is finalized, the Superior Court is going to owe me $950 plus interest.”

Raju enthusiastically told the crowd that this city’s public defenders “bring it, with every fiber of their beings, day-in, day-out.” He will be sworn in as their leader shortly, after he manages to relocate himself permanently from Oakland into the city.

Matt Gonzalez said his former intern and boss-to-be Mano Raju may be the finest trial attorney he’s ever worked with. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez