For Mano Raju, public defense work has always been a calling.
Manohar “Mano” Raju grew up a child of South Indian parents who immigrated to the United States to give their children a better life. Mano’s mother was committed to staying connected to their family back in India. As a result, Mano learned about inequity at an early age as he returned to his parents’ village in Tamil Nadu and witnessed firsthand how the scales of justice were tipped against his family and community by global economic trends, educational inequity, water scarcity, and the caste system.
Heeding the Call of Public Defense
Mano attended Columbia University as an undergraduate where he researched Critical Race Theory under Professor Kendall Thomas. After an influential fellowship at the Oxford Center for African Studies, he relocated to Berkeley in the 90s to pursue his Masters in South Asian Studies and later his JD at Berkeley School of Law, where he interned in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
Mano found his calling in 2001 when he started his public defender career in Contra Costa County. He developed a reputation for being a formidable trial attorney, moving up to the Felony Division after just one year.
Seven years later, he was recruited by Jeff Adachi to join the SF Public Defender’s office. In the 11 years since joining the office, Mano has fought hard for the people of San Francisco, becoming, in the words of Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez, “the finest trial attorney I’ve ever worked with.” He developed a reputation as a courtroom fighter for justice, making space for clients to tell their truth, and a pillar of support for clients and their families trying to escape the criminal legal system.
Mano rose up through the ranks of the Public Defender’s Office to become Director of Training and later Co-Manager of the Felony Unit.
Mano is one of the original members of Public Defenders for Racial Justice, an organization of public defenders that combats racial biases in the courtroom and strives for more equitable results. It also strives to facilitate the development and growth of the increasingly diverse public defender community. From his advocacy work at the state capital to his leadership work within public defender circles, Mano knows there is a policy role to play in fighting inequity.
Swept into Leadership
After the untimely death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Mano was appointed San Francisco Public Defender by Mayor London Breed.
Mayor Breed selected Mano due to his reputation as a fighter bringing justice to the courtroom, calling him “an incredible leader,” for his commitment to support of clients and families, and advocacy for juries that reflect the communities of the accused. His first supervisor in San Francisco, Rebecca Young, describes Mano as a “brilliant, original thinker, with a fantastic legal mind” whose “trial work is impeccable.” Danielle Harris, who was partnered with Mano as manager of the public defender’s felony unit, calls him “very approachable” as a manager, “hands-on,” and an “extraordinarily good listener.”
A 20+ year Bay Area resident, Mano relocated from Oakland back to San Francisco after Mayor Breed’s appointment, as per City Charter requirements for Public Defender residency. Mano had previously lived in Potrero Hill and the Mission, but then moved to Oakland and spent years commuting from the East Bay to defend San Francisco clients in court and advocate for their families and communities.
Mano is proud to be San Francisco’s first South Asian American Public Defender.
“Mano has a keen intellect and is an exceptional trial lawyer. He may be the best I’ve seen.”Matt Gonzalez, Chief Attorney of the SF Public Defender’s Office
Read more about Mano’s priorities as Public Defender.
Matt Gonzalez Remarks on Mayor Breed’s Appointment of Mano Raju Appointment as Public Defender: