Mano Raju is
the current elected Public Defender for San Francisco running for re-election. His bold and innate value for community stems from the deeply impactful role that community care played in his family’s journey. Through the power of community, his father became the first in his family to finish high school. This eventually gave him the means to immigrate to the United States with Mano’s mother, where Mano continues this legacy of care and strives to be a vessel through which people can actualize and avail it to help undo mass incarceration.
Mano’s public school education exposed him to influential history teachers who helped shape his worldview and ignite his involvement in activist campaigns such as Students Against Apartheid in high school. He then pursued a degree at Columbia University. After graduation, he was a fellow at the Oxford Center for African Studies and then moved to California to complete a Master's in South Asian Studies at Berkeley. He then acquired a J.D. at UC Berkeley Law School, where he worked as a research assistant to Critical Legal Studies Professor Angela Davis and excelled at criminal trial practice. Mano had legal internships working in civil rights at the Asian Law Caucus, housing advocacy at the Chicago Metropolitan Center for Open Communities, and legal research and writing at the Contra Costa Alternate Defender Office. He began his legal career practicing labor law, vigorously representing union members.
Knowing that his calling was to aggressively represent vulnerable communities in jury trials, Mano joined the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office. After just one year in misdemeanors, he was elevated to felonies where he tried six felony trials in his first year in the felony rotation. Following seven years of practice in Contra Costa County, he was recruited by Jeff Adachi to work at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office. After practicing as a felony line deputy, Mano was promoted to the Director of Training and then to the Manager of the Felony Unit, and now serves as the elected Public Defender of San Francisco.
During his tenure in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Mano has spearheaded innovative programs, such as:
“Be the Jury'' Pilot Program, which removes economic barriers to service by compensating low-income jurors $100 per day of jury service.
Youth Defender Program, which offers paid internships for high school students to invest in youth empowerment rather than the criminalization of youth.
End the Cycle initiative that deploys boots-on-the-ground case managers to meet with clients after they are initially arrested so that they can access appropriate services and thereby enhance community health.
Freedom Project, which challenges excessive sentences and wrongful convictions.
Integrity Unit to collect and make accessible public records about police officers to help curb police, prosecutorial, and judicial misconduct.
With Mano’s leadership and vision, the office also has grown existing award-winning programs, including:
Tripling the capacity of the Clean Slate Program, which provides a simple and accessible way to “clean up” prior criminal records.
Growing the capacity of the Immigration Unit to include class action work that has led to the release of immigrants facing inhumane conditions in immigration detention during the COVID pandemic.
Expanding the policy reach of our office to advocate for legislation that reduces incarceration and promotes community-based strategies to support marginalized communities.
Mano has been an active member of Public Defenders for Racial Justice that conducts Bay Area-wide trainings. His trial successes have made him a sought after lecturer for the California Public Defender Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, National Association of Public Defenders and the Black Public Defender’s Association. Mano’s dedication and commitment to defending has won him numerous awards, including the National South Asian Public Interest Award from the South Asian Bar Association, the James Madison Freedom of Press Award for a Public Official, and the Special Recognition Award from the California Public Defenders Association.
As the only elected Public Defender in California, Mano continues to grow the office’s capacity to provide the highest level representation and holistic wrap-around services that contribute to community health. He is honored to be endorsed by so many community and city leaders who share his vision of zealous representation, while simultaneously working toward more equitable and humane systems.
To achieve racial justice and successfully counter attacks on efforts to decarcerate and transform our systems, we must build a formidable base of support for those most impacted by those systems and the public defenders at the forefront of this advocacy. It takes the whole community working together to bring about lasting change. Any of Mano’s success doesn't happen without inspiration, support, and input from his family, clients, community, amazing public defender family, and of course, Jeff Adachi, whose legacy Mano will continue to honor.