Mabel A. Adams, a former secretary who was an influential and beloved administrator in the federal public defender's office in Sacramento for many years, died Oct. 1 of stomach cancer, her family said. She was 78.
Within two years after the Federal Defender's Office opened in Sacramento, Ms. Adams went to work as a receptionist and secretary in 1973. Her duties grew to include running the program for picking outside lawyers to help represent indigent defendants, and she became the first Criminal Justice Act panel administrator in the country when U.S. court officials created the position in 1990 based on her work.
"Mabel was absolutely instrumental to how this office runs today," Federal Defender Daniel Broderick said.
Ms. Adams was widely respected in the legal community as the go-to person for understanding the peculiar workings of the federal judiciary. Besides overseeing their selection and payment, she tutored many private lawyers on federal court procedures and personalities.
"She undertook my complete training in the federal court system," lawyer Candace Fry said. "Her main concern was getting proper and good representation for people who needed our help. But she was a friend to everyone."
Ms. Adams also served as the office mother for the federal defender staff and panel attorneys.
She trained many co-workers and was a calming presence who organized regular "Crock-Pot potlucks" to boost morale in the busy office, which serves indigent clients in 34 counties from Kern County to the Oregon border.
A convivial woman and excellent cook, she hosted many barbecues at her Sacramento home for colleagues and her extended family.
"She was a lot of fun," said Mary A. French, a former assistant federal defender. "She had lawyers and their spouses and children over. She was a mother hen to her nieces and family and everyone who came to her house."
Born in 1934 in Ignacio, Colo., Mabel Alires studied at Brigham Young University in Utah and moved to Sacramento by 1956. She earned a secretarial diploma from Heald Business College and went on to serve as principal at the school.
"There were a lot of foreign students at Heald in the 1960s, and she often invited them to stay at her house," said her sister-in-law, Carol Hrimnak. "She was just a selfless, heart-centered person."
Ms. Adams was married to David Hunt since 2000. She was predeceased by her earlier husband, Ted Adams, a former federal courtroom deputy. She had no children.
She owned a collection of vintage typewriters, dictation machines and other office equipment that was displayed in the main hallway of the Federal Defender's Office, where she retired in 2000. An avid reader, she created a library with thousands of books in her home garage.
"She enjoyed visiting with her nieces and friends," her husband said. "She always welcomed people to her house."