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Public Defender appoints Matt Gonzalez as chief attorney

February 25, 2011

by Tamara Aparton

Matt Gonzalez – Photo: Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal
San Francisco – Matt Gonzalez, a longtime civil rights and criminal defense attorney and former Board of Supervisors president, was appointed Feb. 22 as chief attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s office.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced the news to his staff during an 8 a.m. meeting. Gonzalez replaces former Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese, who left Dec. 31 for private practice. Gonzalez’s position is effective immediately.

The appointment marks Gonzalez’ return to the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, where he served as a deputy public defender from 1991 to 2001. He successfully tried many cases while in the office, including serious felonies, three-strike cases and life-in-prison matters.

In 2000, Gonzalez was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He took office in 2001 and was elected by his colleagues two years later as president of the 11-member body. Gonzalez was the main sponsor of a ballot measure that created the highest minimum wage in the country. He authored groundbreaking legislation on elections and ethics reform, instant run-off voting and commission appointments. He also proposed a measure to give immigrants the right to vote in municipal elections.

Jeff Adachi – Photo: Luke Thomas, Fog City Journal
Adachi said Gonzalez’s experience both in the courtroom and in City Hall make him an excellent fit for the position, which involves overseeing and managing all internal operations of the Public Defender’s office as well as participating in budget planning and negotiations.

“We wanted a top trial lawyer who understands our work, has a commitment to our clients and a dedication to preserving the resources that allow our office to function,” Adachi said. “That person is Matt Gonzalez.”

Since 2005, Gonzalez has been a partner in the law firm of Gonzalez and Leigh, where he handled both civil and criminal matters. While in private practice, Gonzalez successfully litigated a number of federal civil rights cases, including the first punitive damages verdict against a sitting district attorney (Solano County) in California’s history.

His firm also brought suit against Yolo County’s Superior Court challenging the lack of Latino representation on its Grand Jury, which brought important reforms. Gonzalez also successfully defended the head of Yolo County’s Housing Authority against corruption and other charges.

The McAllen, Texas, native received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1987 and his Juris Doctor degree from Stanford Law School in 1990. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2000 Lawyer of the Year award from the San Francisco La Raza Lawyers Association, the 2003 In Defense of Animals Guardian Award, and the 2004 Bert Corona Award from California’s Mexican American Political Association.

Year end report: Public defenders win 48 percent of trials

People facing jury trial in San Francisco last year avoided conviction nearly half the time if represented by a public defender, according to the 2010 Public Defender’s Annual Report and 2011 Calendar. The document may be viewed at http://sfpublicdefender.org/media/2011/01/annual-report-2010/.

Senior Legal Process Clerk Angela Mathews will celebrate her 35th year with the Public Defender’s Office on Aug. 17. During the crime lab scandal, clerks pulled 1,800 files in addition to their regular duties. – Photo: “Portraits of Justice,” 2011 Calendar and Annual Report, San Francisco Office of the Public Defender
Combined misdemeanor and felony trial statistics for 2010 reveal that juries returned not guilty verdicts 36 percent of the time. Another 12 percent of trials resulted in hung juries, and 22 percent resulted in mixed verdicts. Juries found public defender clients guilty of all charges in only 30 percent of trials. Public defenders tried 168 total cases in 2010.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi noted that the acquittal rate rose for the third straight year, despite an extraordinarily busy time for the office. A series of scandals involving the San Francisco Police Department Crime Lab and police misconduct disclosures necessitated the review of thousands of cases by public defenders during 2010.

“Despite the additional duties that came with ensuring the integrity of the evidence, we have continued to do our very best to provide 25,000 San Franciscans with the legal representation guaranteed by the Constitution,” Adachi said.

The Public Defender’s office has published its annual report each year since 2003. This year’s calendar features emotionally stirring portraits and true-life accounts of clients, staff, courtroom victories and innovative programs. Highlights include:

• Forty-eight percent of all trials resulting in no conviction, compared to 46.5 percent in 2009 and 38.5 percent in 2008.

• Approximately 700 felony cases dismissed due to the crime lab scandal.

• Seventy percent of homicide trials resulting in acquittals, hung juries or mixed verdicts.

• Two homicide convictions overturned on appeal.

• Seventy-one percent of domestic violence trials resulting in acquittals, hung juries or mixed verdicts.

Tony is a former client of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office who now helps the homeless through his job managing a community center. He completed treatment with the help of Deputy Public Defender Danielle Harris of the Felony Unit and Social Worker Shannon Bennett. – Photo: “Portraits of Justice,” 2011 Calendar and Annual Report, San Francisco Office of the Public Defender
• The recommended number of attorneys assigned to a single defense investigator vs. actual number of attorneys assigned to a single defense investigator: 3:1 vs. 5:1.

• Launching of a pilot program allowing those under a mental health conservatorship to be placed in the community, minimizing their interactions with the criminal justice system.

• Thirty-nine percent reduction in re-arrests for Behavioral Health Court clients.

• Zero children sent to state incarceration facilities or transferred to adult criminal court.

These statistics and many more are included in the Public Defender’s Office 2010 Annual Report and 2011 Calendar, which is not printed at public expense. The Public Defender’s Office is one of the few city departments that provide printed annual reports to the public.

Adachi said the report reflects his office’s commitment to transparency and gives the public a broad view of the criminal justice system.

“People often think that if someone is charged with a crime, there must be overwhelming evidence,” he said. “In fact, juries did not find enough to convict in nearly half the jury trials.”

The public may pick up the free calendar at the front desk of the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, 555 Seventh St., between Brannan and Bryant streets, in San Francisco.

Tamara Aparton, communications and policy assistant for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, can be reached at Tamara.Aparton@sfgov.org or (415) 575-4390.

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