San Francisco—Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte, whose client Jose Ines Garcia Zarate was acquitted of murder following a high profile trial last year, have been named Defenders of the Year by the California Public Defenders Association.
CPDA will present the award April 28 at its 49th Annual Convention in Long Beach. Gonzalez is the chief attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. Ugarte is the managing attorney of the office’s Immigration Defense Unit. The honor, established in 1987, was previously awarded to San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Jan Lecklikner in 2011.
They were chosen for the honor based on their zealous representation of Garcia Zarate amid national controversy surrounding case, said CPDA President Brendon Woods.
“The work that Matt Gonzalez and Francisco Ugarte did for their client Mr. Garcia Zarate was amazing. They advocated relentlessly for their client in the face of public outcry that reached the highest level of government and saw that a just outcome was reached. Their work on this case highlights the work public defenders do every day in California. We are honored to present them with the CPDA Defender of the Year Award,” Woods said.
Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen, was charged in the 2015 fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump frequently invoked the incident in building support for his border wall.
Despite portraying Garcia Zarate as a cold blooded murderer, forensic evidence showed the single shot had been fired from 100 feet away and ricocheted off the concrete before hitting Steinle. The gun, a fully loaded Sig Sauer P239 with no trigger safety, was discarded on the pier and wrapped in cloth when Garcia Zarate found it. Gonzalez and Ugarte argued that the gun, which had a light trigger pull, went off accidentally.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi also commended Gonzalez and Ugarte and their team on the Garcia Zarate case: former public defender Michael Hinckley, who volunteered on the case, Paralegal/Attorney Zach Dillon and Investigator Danielle Thompson.
“I am very proud of the incredible representation Matt, Francisco and their team provided to Mr. Garcia Zarate. It is a case that symbolized America’s hope that our justice system should never be compromised by the politics of hate, in this case, the scapegoating immigrants,” Adachi said.