Community Update from San Francisco
Public Defender Mano Raju
December 2021
Dear Community, 
I hope this newsletter finds you well and in good health.
Since my last newsletter, we have continued to innovate and advocate for the health, rights, and dignity of our clients whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the pandemic and ongoing injustices of the carceral system. Below you’ll learn about some of the many ways we have been fiercely defending individuals, confronting state-sponsored violence, and advocating for community power. Thank you for fighting alongside us!

In Solidarity,

Mano Raju
San Francisco Public Defender
Public Defenders Fighting to Open the Courts
Our court system is in a state of crisis. Hundreds of people have been sitting in jail, waiting for trial long past their legal deadline. In fact, many have been waiting over a year under the traumatic and unhealthy conditions of 23-hour lockdowns and limited visitation. That’s why I joined several local taxpayers and family members of the accused to sue San Francisco Superior Court. The Court must open more courtrooms for criminal jury trials and start to address the tremendous backlog of cases worsened by the pandemic. Other counties have been able to safely hold up to ten times as many trials as San Francisco, and we must do better by opening more courtrooms immediately. 
Read my latest Op Ed “Jails are full, courtrooms are empty in San Francisco” in the Daily Journal, and learn more about the lawsuit on our website.
In September 2021, Public Defenders and community allies held a rally on the steps of the Hall of Justice to demand that the San Francisco Superior Court address the growing backlog of trials and open more courtooms. Many held signs showing how many days their clients have been waiting for their trials long past the legal deadline.

Public Defender Trial Wins
Recent Trial Wins
Despite the limited courtrooms made available for trials, we have still been able to win favorable outcomes for many of our clients where juries found them not guilty of the charges against them. Some were accused of very serious felonies and many spent months in jail only to be found not guilty. 

Please see our media page to learn about some of our recent trial wins -- including a graffiti artist accused of assault even though he had been the target of a vigilante; a woman whose ex-partner set her up to violate a restraining order; a man suspected of a DUI and then put through a series of unreliable field sobriety tests in a dark windy parking lot; and a man who acted in self-defense in a domestic dispute. All of these cases had one thing in common: going to trial was the only way they would be able to clear their names.
Exonerated After 46 Years
Our post-conviction team has been doing remarkable work to help free people from prison, sometimes after many decades. Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young was able to overturn a client’s wrongful convictions from 1974. Read the heartbreaking story that kept him in prison for 46 years, how our office helped push for a California law that ultimately helped to free him, and the extraordinary efforts made over the past three years to help clear his name. 
Zachary Vanderhorst (left) the week he was released from prison in February 2020, after his attorneys Rebecca Young of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office (center) and Patrick Murray of Keker, Van Nest and Peters (right) worked to overturn his felony murder conviction from 1974. Photo credit Richard Bui.

Public Defenders Exposing the Impact of COVID on Incarcerated People & Fighting for Freedom

Judge Rules CDCR Inflicted Cruel and Unusual Punishment at San Quentin

A year and a half after more than 300 incarcerated petitioners filed emergency writs of habeas corpus for relief during a massive COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin State Prison, Judge Geoffrey Howard of Marin County Superior Court made a final ruling in the case against the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) and San Quentin. The judge found that prison officials acted with deliberate indifference and violated the Petitioners’ constitutional rights. However, the judge offered no relief to the Petitioners and no consequences for prison officials, despite raising serious doubts about "whether [officials have] learned the right lessons from the 2020 COVID-19 debacle at San Quentin” which resulted in over 2,600 cases of COVID-19 and 29 deaths. 
Incarcerated people testified during a two-week hearing in May 2021 about the horrific conditions at San Quentin in the summer of 2020. No recordings of the hearing were permitted, but the Davis Vanguard committed to watching and reporting each day. We’ve collected those articles on our website, and you can click on the image above to access them. Photo credit David Greenwald.
Last Person in Yuba Freed from ICE Custody

Our Immigration Defense Unit has been fighting for the release of our clients from civil immigration detention, and we have finally gotten the last person released from ICE custody at the Yuba County Jail. This was a community effort that combined advocacy from the FreeTheYuba11 campaign, alongside our relentless litigation attempts to expose the dangerous conditions at ICE facilities and argue for people to be released. We are so happy for Ricardo who has been reunited with his family after 3.5 years. 
With assistance from Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Friedman, Deepa Fernandes of the San Francisco Chronicle interviewed Ricardo Vasquez Cruz who was reunited with his family in October. Photo credit to Jana Ašenbrennerová / Special to The Chronicle.
Adachi Project Film “From Inside” Amplifies Voices from SF County Jail

We created the Adachi Project to illuminate unseen aspects of the criminal legal system and to amplify the voices of those most impacted. As part of the Adachi Project, we released the short film “From Inside” to illustrate some of the physical and psychological impacts that being in jail during the pandemic and waiting for court dates has had on our clients. Through this film, you hear directly from incarcerated people about their own experiences.
Upon the release of "From Inside" KQED Arts reporter Nastia Voynovskaya wrote a feature article about The Adachi Project. The photo is a still shot from the Adachi Project film "Forty-Four Years Later" which follows Paul Redd on his first day of freedom as he reunites with his family after 44 years in prison.
The Adachi Project's inaugural body of work DEFENDER-Vol.00 can be found at Follow the project on Instagram @wearedefender.
Legislative Wins
Governor Signed AB 1452 Authorizing “Be the Jury” to Pay SF Jurors More
We are excited to share that our “Be the Jury” pilot program - which will help eliminate financial hardships and pay low-income and self-employed jurors $100/day - has been authorized by the Governor and will start in February 2022. Many thanks to our partners at the San Francisco Financial Justice Project, Treasurer Jose Cisneros, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Senator Scott Wiener, and the District Attorney’s Office for partnering with us to create this first-of-its-kind program to pave the way toward more economically- and racially-diverse juries. 
Read about why jury diversity matters to Public Defender Mano Raju in a column by Justin Phillips at the San Francisco Chronicle
Learn more about the issues driving this initiative from Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Hilton, who appeared on NY Public Radio to discuss it on The Takeaway.

In August 2021, our proposed "Be the Jury" pilot program made the cover of SF Weekly with an in-depth article by Lily Sinkovitz about several historical attempts to increase diversity and equity in the courtroom. Art by Olivia Wise.
Public Defenders in the Community
Congratulations to our B’MAGIC Peacemakers

We are very proud of our B’MAGIC program, which was honored with an SF Peacemaker Award by the Community Boards in June. The Award acknowledged  B'MAGIC's “significant and tireless contributions… [which] make San Francisco a city of healthier, more just, and respectful neighborhoods and communities” and as an organization with “the next generation of rising peacemakers.” 
Welcoming our 2nd Cohort of SF Young Defenders

We welcomed our second group of high school students to the SF Young Defenders paid internship program! After a successful and 100% remote first year of the program, several Young Defenders have returned as Fellows who are supporting a new cohort of Young Defenders in their journey to learn about justice through the unique lens of public defense. We’re very grateful to our partners at Teachers for Social Justice, Opportunities for All, and the SF Human Rights Commission for helping to make this opportunity available to our next generation of diverse justice leaders. 
Our Clean Slate Team is Available for In-Person Community Events!
Having a conviction or even an arrest on your record can create long-lasting obstacles to jobs, housing and employment. Our Clean Slate team is available to help people leave their past behind and open doors to their future, so please let us know if you’d like them to show up at your community event. You can follow @sfcleanslate on Instagram to find them in the community, or visit our website to start your application today!
Scan this QR code to access Clean Slate services.
Contact Our Office
As always, if you need to reach our office for any reason, call our front desk at 415-553-1671 or contact us through our website at

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San Francisco Public Defender's Office
Since 1921