Justice and Liberty for Some

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In this week’s Scheer Intelligence, Jeff Adachi, whose parents were confined in an internment camp in Arkansas during World War II, states that knowing that his parents were “in jail” for being Japanese-American, “that experience that they didn’t have a trial, that there was never any Japanese-American who was charged with espionage…  That experience… really engrained in me the notion that you have to fight for your rights, it’s not something that you can take for granted…”

Adachi and Scheer begin the conversation discussing the new bail law in California, which was deigned to bring fairness to a system but which Adachi and other initial supporters dropped their support when the governor and judicial advisers made substantive changes to it.  Adachi refers to the old system as a way to “buy your freedom,” which seems to run counter to the idea of Liberty and Justice for All, especially because “85% of the people who are behind bars are there because they cannot post bail.”  Adachi, however, is against the new bill because it “gives all the power to the judges” to use “preventive detention,” which is not setting any bail and can result in a person sitting in jail indefinitely even in misdemeanor cases.  This is particularly onerous if the person is innocent. 

“The role of the public defender, as I see it, is to protect the rights of citizens, but also to watch out for erring judges and prosecutors who are hiding evidence and police who are violating the law” Adachi states. As an example, “we had a situation recently where a judge agreed to let out a gentleman, and when the person came out in court he is a large African American man, and the judge said ‘I’m not letting you out.’  And my attorney said ‘well the only thing that has changed since you agreed to letting him out is that you see, he’s an African American man.”

Adachi has fought for basic constitutional rights, against police misconduct, and prosecutorial misconduct.  He now has a unit to protect immigrants in his public defender position.  “In the immigration court” he says “you don’t have the right to a lawyer, even if you’re a child” and so he’s worked on having 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 interview concludes with a somewhat sour note: “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…” Adachi says. But Scheer pushes back. He notes that black or brown people do not have an equal playing field with whites.  That we are a nation that has treated people terribly, and continues to do so.  For example, California, a liberal state, “has the highest incarceration rate per capita than anywhere else in the world” and overall the US population has half of the inmate population comprised of black people. Adachi adds that “out of every $1 that is spent on law enforcement or prosecution, only five cents goes to public defense.  I’ve talked to public defenders in the South that have caseloads of 500 to 1000 people at the time.”



  • Jeff Adachi - Public defender of the City and County of San Francisco


Joshua Scheer