Lawyer Brawl: Public Defender Says Supervisor 'Has No Idea What He's Doing.' Supe Retorts Public Defender Is a 'Horrible' Administrator

Categories: Government
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There's no love lost right now between Supervisor Sean Elsbernd (left) and Public Defender Jeff Adachi

Perhaps disproving the scientific theory Mo' Money, Mo' Problems, a critical lack of the stuff has touched off a nasty feud between Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd.

After Elsbernd announced he would introduce legislation at today's Board of Supervisors meeting to cut the Public Defender's staff and budget, Adachi went ballistic on BeyondChron.org:

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is a lawyer, but to my knowledge, he has never practiced law and has never handled a case in his life. He has no idea what it's like to handle a criminal case or how to manage a major law firm. How many trials has he handled? Not one. He has no idea what he's doing, and he's going to try and tell me how to run my office? Do we really want a politician who has no experience in practicing law dictating how the Public Defender's office should be run? If Supervisor Elsbernd wants to run for Public Defender, he can run against me and we can have this discussion. But it's not his job to dictate what level of representation we should provide to the poor.
Elsbernd told SF Weekly he was shocked by the vitrol of Adachi's statement -- before uttering what is a surefire early entry for the 2009 Backhanded Compliment of the Year.

"Jeff Adachi, if I were ever accused of a crime, he's who I'd call. He's a great public defender. But when it comes to managing a budget, frankly, he's horrible," the supe said. "He's $1 million overspent, and he still hasn't come up with the $850,000 he had to come up with for midyear cuts."

Elsbernd didn't dispute Adachi's claim that the overloaded public defender's office would end up costing the city more money in the long run by farming out cases to private attorneys. He simply urged the PD to find "areas of his budget he should be cutting -- so he has the resources to do his constitutionally mandated job."

Adachi told SF Weekly he feels like the protagonist of the film Brazil, who was crushed by a massive, illogical bureaucracy.

"It comes down to this. We have too many cases right now. I've shown that. It's a question of whether they let me hire two paralegals for $50,000 vs. if we can't do these cases, it'll cost us $500,000 to $1 million. I've gone through this whole process with the mayor and his board of analysts. They've probably spent more than $50,000 analyzing my request," the public defender said.

Adachi accused Elsbernd of undertaking a "retaliatory measure -- he is not happy with the fact I have exercised my right to decline cases."

Elsbernd countered that this is a bottom-line driven move and not personal. He conceded that Adachi's claim that he has never tried a case in his legal career is "absolutely accurate -- but this is not about being a trial attorney. It's just about managing a departmental budget. I've been on the budget committee and that's something I've managed to do."

Regarding Adachi's invitation to the supervisor to run for public defender, Elsbernd confessed that he has "Zero interest in that job. None at all."


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