Jeff Adachi has devoted his professional life to public service, serving as a public defender for 32 years, the last 15 of which in the top elected spot in the public defender’s office. Somehow he has also managed to carve out a sideline as a filmmaker, making documentaries that examine racial issues in our culture with such powerful films as THE SLANTED SCREEN, and YOU DON’T KNOW JACK, THE JACK SOO STORY. His latest film, DEFENDER puts Adachi himself on the screen, following his work in the public defender’s office, including a case he chose to try himself, that of Michael Smith. He also provided Smith with rides to court, and that was the first thing I asked him about when we spoke at his office on March 21, 2017.
An energetic man with obvious passion for both his careers, Adachi went on to discuss his reasons for pursuing both of them; why he chose to take on Smith’s defense himself; and how racial issues have, and haven’t changed over the years.
An excerpt of DEFENDER, entitled THE RIDE, screened as part of CAAMFest, paired with Steve James’ film ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL, and I asked Adachi to comment about the similar themes, that of people dragged through the court system through no fault of their own, and the injustice of both the expense and emotional stress that inflicts, no matter what the outcome of the legal case.
He also talked about what we lose as a society when we are indifferent to cases like this one and the reasons he has chosen not to work in the private sector, including the internment of his parents and grandparents during World War II.