Former San Francisco supervisor, mayoral candidate, and U.S. vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez returned to public service today as chief attorney for the public defender’s office in what he called “a kind of homecoming.”

Gonzalez worked as a deputy public defender from 1991 to 2001, when he took office as supervisor, and will return as the office’s chief attorney, spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton said.

The post is essentially second-in-command to the public defender, Aparton said.

Since 2001, Gonzalez has served as supervisor board president, lost a narrow mayoral race to Gavin Newsom in 2003, started a private law firm in 2005, and even served as Ralph Nader’s vice presidential candidate for the Green Party in the 2008 election.

“I very much liked what I was doing, but started to think about what I might be doing next,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview today.

He said he considered “the possibility of seeking a judicial appointment or teaching at a law school, but didn’t really consider this” position until Public Defender Jeff Adachi broached the subject with him more than a month ago.

Adachi has been seeking a replacement since former Chief Attorney Teresa Caffese announced she was stepping down from the position. Caffese officially resigned on Jan. 31, Aparton said.

Gonzalez’s appointment was announced at a staff meeting this morning, and he started work today, she said.

Gonzalez said he was excited to return to the office where he got his start two decades ago.

“It’s kind of where I started and originally got my skills,” he said. “Since I’ve left, and served as supervisor and was prosecuting civil rights cases, I liked the idea of coming back to where I started with those additional skills.”

The chief attorney position involves overseeing and managing all internal operations of the public defender’s office, and also participating in budget planning and negotiations.

“We wanted a top trial lawyer who understands our work, has a commitment to our clients and a dedication to preserving the resources that allow our office to function,” Adachi said in a statement.

He said Gonzalez’s experience in the courtroom and at City Hall made him an excellent fit for the position.

Gonzalez demurred when asked whether his return to public service might signal aspirations to return to elected office.

“For those of us who have worked in an office like this, chief attorney is a prestigious role, especially in San Francisco, a major city in the U.S.,” he said.

“I understand the gravitas that (the position) has, not only teaching others, but to set a standard for what is quality representation.”

His private firm, Gonzalez and Leigh, which focuses on both civil and criminal matters, “Will continue without me, though there are a couple cases I’ll keep an eye on, and may take a leave if and when they come to trial,” he said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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