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, addressing a wide range of community needs. Attorneys devote time to issues and causes that are important to them and to the community as a whole. Additionally, Downey Brand attorneys perform volunteer work for organizations working to improve the legal system and access to justice.
Some of our younger attorneys take on pro bono cases that allow them to grow their skills while assisting non-profit organizations or persons of limited means. In these instances, a more senior attorney will lend guidance and expertise throughout the process to ensure that all clients receive the appropriate level of service.
The Firm is not able to 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.
Programs and Activities
Our efforts have spanned a variety of areas:
- We played a lead role in organizing a pro bono estate planning clinic, which began in March 2017 to provide free services to low-income residents of the Greater Sacramento Area. Volunteer attorneys assist qualifying clients with the preparation of financial powers of attorney, advance health care directives, and simple wills. The clinic operates one Monday evening per month, by appointment only, from the offices of Voluntary Legal Services Program at 501 12th Street (near E Street) in downtown Sacramento. Interested members of the public may call VLSP at 916-551-2102 for more information.
- Also in partnership with the Voluntary Legal Services Program, our lawyers since May 2011 have staffed the “Lawyers in the Library” project at the Sacramento County Public Law Library one or two evenings each month. Associate Kristin Capritto 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 select immigration law matters through the University of California Davis School of Law Immigration Clinic. For more information, see 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 United States District Court, Eastern District of California Pro Bono Panel, which focuses primarily on prisoner rights cases; and the Voluntary Dispute Resolution Program.
- Many of the firm’s lawyers are actively involved with local and California bar sections that focus on improving the legal system.
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.
- For over 20 years, Helen and Tom Kang operated Mercury Cleaners in midtown Sacramento. In early 2014, the Cleaners 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 historical neon sign.
- 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. Attorneys Jeffrey Galvin and Ashley Boulton handled this matter.
- 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.