Friends and colleagues were in mourning Feb. 23 after learning of the death of longtime San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Adachi, who was 59, was having dinner with a friend in North Beach the night before when he began to have trouble breathing, according to Katy St. Clair, spokeswoman for the public defender’s office.

Emergency crews were able to recover a pulse, but Adachi later died at the hospital, St. Clair said.

Adachi, who started in 1987 as deputy public defender and went on to become a five-time elected public defender for the city, is survived by his wife, Mutsuko, and daughter, Lauren. A cause of death has not been released.

Colleagues were devastated by news of Adachi’s death and described him as fearless.

“For over 20 years, Jeff was a mentor, a friend, an inspiration and a true leader — always bringing out the best in each and every one of us,” said Niki Solis, San Francisco deputy public defender.

Adachi brought in much-needed technology to the office, along with increased numbers of support staff such as paralegals, investigators, and social workers, according to a release from the public defender’s office.

“Jeff knew how many public defender offices across the country were struggling with high caseloads, no resources, and low morale, and he set a goal to not only overcome that here, but to create an agency that would become a guiding light for all other offices around the country,” according to a release from the public defender’s office.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Adachi “always stood up for those who didn’t have a voice, have been ignored and overlooked, and who needed a real champion.”

In a statement, Breed extended her condolences to Adachi’s family and said the city had lost a dedicated public servant, and communities had lost a champion.

“He was committed not only to the fight for justice in the courtroom, but he was also a relentless advocate for criminal justice reform,” Breed said.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, said she admired Adachi and said she just spoke with him last week.

“I was shocked and deeply saddened last night to learn of the passing of my friend Jeff Adachi,” Harris said in statement.

“Jeff was a national leader in advocating for the rights of the accused and due process, an outspoken fighter for justice and police accountability, and a fierce and talented advocate for his clients,”  said the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate.

Presiding San Francisco Superior Court Judge Garrett L. Wong issued a statement late Feb. 22 on behalf of the court on Adachi’s death.

“Public Defender Jeff Adachi was a tireless advocate for all San Franciscans and passionate in his pursuit of justice in our City,” Wong said.

“This truly is a sad day for all who benefited from his ardent pursuit of justice. On behalf of the Court, we are saddened by Mr. Adachi’s passing and extend our deepest condolences to his family, co-workers and all who worked closely with him to achieve equality, justice and fair treatment for every defendant in our justice system,” the statement said.

Adachi was first elected in March 2002 as public defender in San Francisco. He was also elected in August 2016 to a three-year term on the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Board of Directors.

He received many local, state and national awards, including the Society of Professional Journalist’s Public Official Award, American Bar Association Hodson Award for Public Service, SPUR Good Government Award, and California Public Defender’s Association Program of the Year Award, according to the defense lawyers association.

Adachi graduated from Hastings College of the Law in 1985 and attended undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley.

Story originally published by Bay City News.