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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Former Liman Fellow Chesa Boudin ’11 Sworn in as District Attorney of San Francisco

Chesa Boudin '11

Chesa Boudin ’11 has been elected to be the next District Attorney in San Francisco.

On January 8, 2020, Chesa Boudin '11, a former Liman Fellow, was sworn in as the new District Attorney in San Francisco. At his inaugration, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor '79 sent a congratulatory video message.

"Your personal strength and commitment to reforming and improving the criminal justice system is a testament to the person you are and the role model you will continue to be for so many," said Justice Sotomayor. "You have undertaken a remarkable challenge today. The hope you reflect is a great beacon to many and the road to accomplishing what you have set out to do will be daunting. Nevertheless, the city of San Francisco will be so very well served by a man whose life creed is believing, as you told me, that we are all safer when we uplift victims, hold everyone accountable for their actions, and do so with empathy and compassion."

Boudin sought to become the city’s prosecutor because of his view of the need for profound reform in the criminal justice system. Previously, he was a public defender at the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, where he began to work in 2012, when he held a Liman Fellowship. Boudin’s project that year was to provide comprehensive legal representation for immigrants whom the office represented in criminal cases. In addition to the fellowship, Boudin clerked for the Honorable Margaret McKeown on the Ninth Circuit and for the Honorable Charles Breyer on the United States Court for the  Northern District of California.

After joining the Public Defender’s Office full-time, Boudin worked on behalf of individual clients, as he tried cases, understood the system from the individual defendant’s perspective, and then sought to make changes to the systems he saw as harmful to safety and people’s well-being. Boudin was part of the litigation team arguing that California’s bail system was unconstitutional, and he has advocated for changing practices on pretrial release and on immigration detention, as well as to rework the relationship with police.

A few months ago, Boudin came back to YLS for a program sponsored by the Liman Center titled, What Does It Mean to Be a Progressive Prosecutor? Joined by New York Times Staff Writer Emily Bazelon and Senior Liman Fellow Laura Fernandez, the discussion explored the work that prosecutors can do, given their vast power, to bring about systemic change in the criminal system.

In April, Boudin wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that described his experiences growing up with incarcerated parents. Boudin wrote that, unlike most families of incarcerated loved ones, his family had many resources that helped to support him while living with the separation that he experienced as a young child and had ways to help him visit his incarcerated parents. “Once I was on track academically,” he wrote, “law school seemed almost inevitable. I became a defense attorney, and now I’m running for district attorney in San Francisco. Fair and just prosecution, just as much as righteous defense, can be a crucial tool to advance justice.” Boudin’s candidacy for District Attorney has received widespread coverage in California and nationally.

Read about Chesa Boudin ’11 and his participation in the 2019 Liman Colloquium