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Public Defenders Remember Peter G. Keane, Former Chief Assistant Public Defender for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Our sincere condolences go out to the family of Peter G. Keane, a well-loved and deeply respected former Chief Assistant Public Defender of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office from 1979-1998, and Dean Emeritus at Golden Gate University School of Law.  

Upon his passing, staff at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office shared an outpouring of affection for Keane’s impact on our office and the people we represent.

“Peter Keane was an exceptional person and lawyer, and his loss will be mourned by a generation of public defenders whom he led by example during his nineteen year tenure as Chief Attorney. He was unrelenting in his belief in the right to counsel and a commitment that every person charged with a crime deserved to have at least one person stand up for them regardless of what they had done or were accused of doing. With Peter’s death, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has lost one of its greatest lawyers,” said Matt Gonzalez, Chief Attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. 

Keane’s leadership was firm, but forgiving. He served our clients, their families, and our community with a passion for justice and reform. He defended clients with great tenacity, including in death penalty cases. He helped scores of attorneys and non-attorneys at the Public Defender’s Office to develop their careers as bold and skilled defenders. He is remembered as a remarkable leader who was fearless in the courtroom, and who stood up for his colleagues as much as he did for his clients. 

After leaving the Public Defender’s Office, he became the Dean and Professor of Law at Golden Gate University, imbuing into the next generation of legal professionals the wisdom and knowledge of criminal law that he’d gained during his long and successful career as a trial attorney. 

Keane’s impact extended beyond the office, the courtroom, and the classroom. He contributed to local and statewide reforms to augment judicial discipline, gun control, and voter registration. He was the first Public Sector attorney to serve as President of the Bar Association of San Francisco, where he successfully persuaded local law firms to hire more women and minorities. He served as a member of the Board of Governors for the State Bar of California, a member of the San Francisco Police Commission, and a member of the San Francisco Ethics Commission. He also gained local acclaim as a legal commentator, which led to him hosting his own radio program called “Keane on the Law” which ran for three years on KPIX.

In an NPR radio essay called “Everyone Deserves Defense” in 2008, he concluded: “One person on your side, no matter what you’ve done, that’s what keeps us a free people.” 

Peter Keane will be missed by all who knew him, but his impact on the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office will not be forgotten. 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed a resolution celebrating his immense contributions and declaring February 8, 2023, Peter Keane Day in the City and County of San Francisco. 

Peter G. Keane
February 8, 1943 – April 17, 2022


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