John Cleary

Introduction by Chuck Sevilla

For many years, John Cleary was the Federal Defender in San Diego. He served on the Board of Directors of CACJ and was its President in 1982. He was also my law partner (1983-2004). After a stellar career in criminal law, he got his PhD in Russian language became an unofficial US Ambassador of goodwill between Russia and the US. Several years ago, he took up Chinese and is now running student exchanges between the US and China focusing on comparative law. He does this all out of his pocket simply for the joy of creating communication and understanding between our peoples. The Chinese have made a wonderful documentary film on his work facilitating the exchange programs between our two countries, and it has a nice bit of bio of John as well. For those in CACJ who know him, this will be a real treat, and for those who don’t, an even bigger treat in learning of the good works of this extraordinarily good man.


John J. Cleary was the first Executive Director of Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. from 1971 to 1983. It was during this time, that FDSDI developed into a distinguished and highly respected office, where attorneys were trained extensively in federal law and trial skills, and expected to aggressively represent clients from trial and through appeal. It was in the office's infancy that it began its long history of appellate victories both at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court. John Cleary, himself, successfully argued three Supreme Court cases, including the hallmark decision in United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975), which challenged law enforcement's use of racial profiling. After his departure from FDSDI, John helped establish the law firm Cleary and Sevilla, which specialized in criminal defense. In 2004, John left private practice to teach for the Fulbright program at Moscow State University, in Russia.

Youtube link to the documentary: