COEUR d'ALENE — When it came to his duties as Kootenai County's chief public defender, John Adams covered all the bases.
Adams, who retired in March after nearly 21 years as public defender, died on Thursday after a long illness, according to county officials.
"He set a very high standard for the Public Defender's Office in Kootenai County," Kootenai County Commission Chairman Marc Eberlein said on Monday. "That high standard had reaches across the country. His legacy will continue on. He did a great job for us."
“John Adams was an uncompromising advocate for individuals charged with crimes,” said Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh. “My condolences to his family.”
Adams headed up nearly 30 murder cases for the county and at least eight death-penalty cases.
Adams' high-profile cases in recent years included Kyle Odom, accused of shooting Pastor Tim Remington of The Altar Church; the double-homicide by then-14-year-old Eldon Samuel of his father and brother; the Joseph Duncan III slayings of members of the Groene family; and Jonathan Renfro, who faces the death penalty after the May 2015 death of Coeur d’Alene Police Sgt. Greg Moore.
"Kootenai County has been privileged to have him at the helm for so many years...," stated a county commissioners’ press release announcing his retirement. "He has soldiered on despite receiving threats of death, arrest and an attempt to fire him."
Christopher Schwartz was named interim public defender after Adams retired before Anne Taylor was hired for the position in June.
That threat to fire him came from Kootenai County commissioners in 2013 — a decision they quickly rescinded after an outpouring of support for Adams from across the state.
A 2010 report on Idaho’s public defense system from the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association applauded Adams for his work at the helm of the county’s public defense office.
"The Public Defender's Office maintains the most client-centered approach to representation of any Idaho system we observed during our study," the report states. "They are litigious, and as a result, the office has more cases on appeal than the larger Ada County public defender office. Adams is justifiably proud of the zealous advocacy provided by his attorneys on behalf of their clients."
Before he took up the cause of indigent defense, Adams served on active duty in the U.S. Navy. That background, according to the release, fortified him with the tenacity he carried forth in his career.
In 2014, Adams received the ACLU Dave Judy Civil Rights Service Award for his commitment and service to advancing the fundamental principles that have championed the cause for civil rights in Idaho. That award was in addition to the 2013 Idaho State Bar Professionalism Award, the Idaho State Bar Outstanding Service Award 2009, Idaho Health and Welfare Child and Family Services Award and others.
Adams served as president of the Idaho Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and as a board member on gubernatorial task forces under three different Idaho governors.