Pro Bono


For decades, our lawyers have been key figures and played pivotal roles in the growth of Northern California and Northern Nevada. Advancing both public and private interests, Downey Brand clients are frequently at the center of the region’s most strategic and vital activities and investments.

Downey Brand has a long tradition of public service that includes a robust pro bono program. Many of our lawyers participate in pro bono activities each year.

The Firm looks to the ABA Model Rule 6.1 guidelines that encourage attorneys to perform at least 50 hours annually of (a) free or substantially reduced-rate legal work for nonprofit organizations or persons of limited means, or (b) volunteer work for organizations improving the legal system or access to justice. We see pro bono work as a way to serve the community while also providing our attorneys and staff with training opportunities.

We have limited resources and do not accept all requests for pro bono assistance. We generally do not handle criminal law, family law, residential foreclosure or consumer bankruptcy matters on a pro bono basis.

For more information or questions regarding our pro bono program, please contact Marci Frazier, assistant to the Firm’s pro bono coordinator, at mfrazier@downeybrand.com or 916.444.1000.

Programs and Activities

Our efforts have spanned a variety of areas:

  • In partnership with the Voluntary Legal Services Program, our lawyers since May 2011 have staffed the “Lawyers in the Library” program at the Sacramento County Public Law Library two evenings each month. Associate Katharine Buddingh coordinates this program for the Firm. For more information, see http://www.saclaw.org/self-help/lawyers-in-the-library/.
  • Our attorneys have represented parties in landlord-tenant mediations through the Pacific McGeorge Housing Mediation Center.
  • We have taken immigration law matters through the University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Clinic. http://www.law.ucdavis.edu/academics-clinicals/immigration-law-clinic.html
  • We have worked on child advocacy matters through the Sacramento Child Advocates and its successor the Children’s Law Center.
  • In partnership with Disability Rights California, we successfully represented claimants in administrative hearings seeking Community Based Adult Services from the Department of Health Care Services.
  • We participate in the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit lawyer referral panel, which focuses on immigration, prisoner rights and other civil rights cases.
  • We are part of the federal Eastern District Court of California Pro Bono Project panel, which focuses primarily on prisoner rights cases.
  • We occasionally form, advise and represent non-profit organizations.
  • Many of the firm's lawyers are actively involved with local and California bar sections that focus on improving the legal system. The firm does not consider general volunteer activities (such as board of director membership or bar activities) as pro bono legal work; rather, qualifying work must fall within the parameters set forth above.

Projects of Public Record

Most of our pro bono work involves confidential matters that cannot be described here, but recent projects help illustrate our pro bono efforts.

  • In Thomas v. Carrasco, No. 06-1549 (9th Cir. 2008), the district court dismissed prisoner Josh Thomas' complaint for invasion of privacy. Mr. Thomas alleged that the defendants' government attorneys violated his right to privacy by obtaining his complete and unredacted medical file without notice or using proper discovery channels. The district court dismissed his complaint without leave to amend on the grounds that he should have sought relief in the underlying lawsuit. He appealed the dismissal and the Ninth Circuit determined that he presented legal issues sufficiently complicated to warrant legal assistance. Downey Brand represented Mr. Thomas on appeal. Annie Amaral wrote his brief and then argued the privacy, procedural, and immunity issues before a three-member panel in San Francisco. The panel issued a unanimous decision reversing the district court's dismissal.
  • In Angevine v. Colvin, No. 11-15678 (9th Cir. 2013), we argued that the Commissioner of Social Security erred by failing to consider evidence of mental impairments in determining whether our client was entitled to benefits.  The Court agreed that the issue had not been waived by prior counsel in the District Court because review was “necessary to avoid a manifest injustice.”  The Court concluded that the administrative law judge erred by failing to address the mental impairment issue through the special psychiatric review technique mandated by federal law and remanded to the agency for proper review.  Jeffrey Galvin and Ashley Boulton worked on this case. 
  • For over 20 years, Helen and Tom Kang operated Mercury Cleaners in midtown Sacramento.  In early 2014, they were cited by state officials for contaminated soil and groundwater found on the premises.  Stephen Meyer, Anthony Arostegui and Steven Goldberg, and Joe Niland of environmental consultant group Geosyntec stepped up to help the Kangs keep Mercury Cleaners open.  The team assisted in responding to the citation, identifying a new location, negotiating the new lease and working through a complex web of state environmental regulations.  The case was featured in The Sacramento Bee.  On June 26, 2015, following a collaborative effort that included the Capitol Area Development Authority (CADA), Councilman Steve Hanson and numerous state agencies, the cleaners relocated across the street with a newly-restored neon sign. 

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