Steven H. Nakano

Steven H. Nakano Photo
Steven H. Nakano


I graduated from U.S.F. Law School at Kendrick Hall in May of 1980 and took the California State Bar Exam in July of that year.  I received notice that I passed the bar exam on my first attempt in November 1980 and was admitted to the California State Bar on December 16th of 1980.

Steven Nakano began his legal career working for the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office between 1981 and 1985. He handled hundreds of cases and began referring clients to drug and alcohol recovery programs because he saw the need for his clients to address their alcoholism and addiction in order to escape the revolving door of addiction and incarceration.

Steven H. Nakano began his private criminal defense practice with friend, Glenn P. Sugihara in August 1985. They quickly established themselves among the best private trial attorneys in Santa Clara County. Steven began working with private psychological therapists with his clients in order to better understand them and represent them in court. The therapists, Florence Izumi (retired) and Kenneth Deaver, have written many in-depth psychological histories and evaluations. Client histories of childhood abuse, neglect and traumatic injury can be addressed by individual therapy in combination with drug and alcohol treatment.

Subcommittee on Investigations:

Immediately after finishing the bar examination I interviewed and was hired by State Assemblyman Floyd Mori, who is now the President of the Japanese American Citizens’ League. I worked for a year for the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Subcommittee on Investigations, a committee for which Assemblyman Mori was the Chairman. The subcommittee on investigation was headed by Attorney Thomas Greene, a hard working and brilliant man. We investigated areas of interest to the State Legislature considering new legislation. The regulation of Indoor Air Pollution and State Regulation of the Insurance Industry “bad faith” insurance practices were areas that I investigated while working briefly in Sacramento. Assemblyman Mori lost his re-election bid in November of 1980 and the Audit Committee had a new Chairperson and with it a new staff. I was sworn in to the California State Bar Association in December of 1980. And, in February of 1981, I was hired by the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender, where I was immediately assigned to the misdemeanor trial team.

Deputy Public Defender (1981-1985):

On my first day in the office I met Public Defender, Sheldon Portman, and his Lead Administrative Attorneys, Ron Norman, Woody Needham and Grant Armstrong. Grant Armstrong walked me to the courthouse and introduced me to Judge Leonard “Len” Edwards and Judge Robert Michael Foley. When we returned to the office, I was assigned an office, where I found 40 files for court that afternoon. The point of this story is that there is no better place to get jury trial experience than in the Public Defenders’ Office. Indeed, it was “initiation by fire.” But there was no better or supportive group of people committed to the fair representation of indigent clients anywhere. Even more than in the District Attorneys’ office, Public Defenders are personally responsible for each client, that includes assigning investigation to investigators, writing legal motions to limit or to exclude illegally obtained evidence and either settling or trying cases in the best interest of the clients. In the 5 years that I worked as a deputy public defender I tried misdemeanor cases, juvenile court trials, and I had two tours of felony jury trials before leaving to establish the law office of Nakano and Sugihara.

Private Criminal Defense Attorney (1985 to Present):

In August of 1985, I opened the law office of NAKANO AND SUGIHARA, with veteran public defender Glenn Sugihara. We obtained our first contract with the County of Santa Clara to handle 200 felony cases annually through what was then called the County Conflicts Administration and the newly appointed director, Phil Pennypacker (now Judge Pennypacker). Our contract paid our annual overhead and kept us very busy. In our “spare time” we both managed to build up our private criminal law practice. Several years later, our good friend from the public defenders’ office Arthur Bocanegra joined our small but growing law firm. Art had joined us after working for several years with the City Attorney’s Office for the City of San Jose. Thus, the office became known as NAKANO, SUGIHARA & BOCANEGRA. In the years between 1985 and 1997, we all gained great jury trial experience in every kind of case from DUI to Homicide. In 1996, I ran for Superior Court Judge in a county wide race and lost to a sitting municipal court judge. We broke up the partnership thinking that I was going to win the election. Several years later Arthur Bocanagra ran successfully and became a Superior Court Judge.

I was the first attorney to produce an Animated Forensic Reconstruction of a shooting based upon the bullet paths to help to establish that the shooting was in self-defense, leading to the acquittal of my client in the case of California versus Shanandoha Garcia 1997. The video was featured on a television program, Tech Now with Bay Area News Reporter, Scott McGrew. Shanandoha has gone on to lead a very happy life, following his 3 year incarceration awaiting jury trial. He is currently employed by the U.S. Department of Defense. He is married with 2 children. Perhaps my greatest legacy is the list of my former clients who, like Shanandoha, have gone on to graduate from local colleges and universities, some who have even received Master’s degrees. A few others have become recognized local artists. And many are active members of our community and role models for younger generations to come.

Practice Areas



  • 5-Star Reviews on Avvo
  • 10.0 Rating on Avvo
  • Client's Choice Award
  • Top Contributor Award 2017
  • Top Contributor Award 2018


Steven is an active musician, multiple instrumentalist, and singer. He has his own band and performs wherever and whenever possible.

Community Involvement

Steven has long been associated with Amicus House Residential Treatment Program. He served on the Board of Directors of the world-renowned San Jose Taiko Group and AACI, Asian Americans for Community Involvement. He was a long time volunteer at the Foundry School, a community day school for youth at risk. He is a long time member of the AIM (American Indian Movement), 500-mile runners.

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