DC Lawyers Group For Civil Rights Names Three Directors

By Jack Rodgers | September 15, 2023, 1:49 PM EDT ·

Ryan Downer
Ryan Downer
Melissa Nussbaum
Melissa Nussbaum
Linda Paris
Linda Paris
The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs has named a new development director, a new legal director and its first communications director, the committee announced Thursday.

Ryan Downer is the new legal director, while Melissa Nussbaum is the new development director, responsible for fostering philanthropic relationships between the committee and local partners. Linda Paris is the communications director, a new leadership position created by the group to help promote the organization's work.

Joanne Lin, executive director, said in the news release that the new team had "a deep commitment and understanding of our mission to fight for racial justice and equality," and that she was excited to welcome the new team to the lawyers' civil rights group.

"I am thrilled to welcome a senior management team with such a deep commitment and understanding of our mission to fight for racial justice and equity," Lin said, "in this moment when we are building a mighty army of lawyers and advocates, litigating and educating people to know and keep their rights."

Downer joins the Washington Lawyers' Committee from the Civil Rights Corps, where he helped oversee that organization's challenges to the criminalization of poverty, according to the release. He was the director of litigation at the Civil Rights Corps and was particularly focused on disputes involving prosecutorial misconduct and on bond- and wealth-based pretrial detention issues, according to his Civil Rights Corps profile. 

A New York University School of Law graduate, Downer will bring to bear his 15 years of litigation experience to help supervise a legal program covering the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, with a wide range of statutory and constitutional legal issues in federal and state court, according to the news release.

Downer's work at the Civil Rights Corps included challenging fake subpoenas issued by the New Orleans district attorney's office; protecting prisoners and other detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic; and challenging wealth discrimination in the marijuana diversion program of Maricopa County, Arizona, according to the release. He's worked at Relman Dane & Colfax PLLC, and as associate counsel for the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund.

Downer did similar litigation-related work at Relman and the Legal Defense Fund, working on fair housing, employment and environmental justice matters, the lawyers' group said.

Nussbaum joins the Washington Lawyers' Committee from Search for Common Ground, a nonprofit focused on fostering cooperative solutions to conflict. She has over 20 years of experience generating funds for philanthropic purposes, working for groups like Exponent Philanthropy, the World Wide Web Foundation, the Association of Small Foundations and Groundswell International, according to the news release and her LinkedIn profile.

Nussbaum has a master's in international policy and development from the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University and a bachelor's in psychology and Spanish from Boston College.

During her most recent role at Search for Common Ground, Nussbaum doubled the number of donations to the organization and tripled its number of donors, according to her LinkedIn profile. She'll have a similar responsibility at the Washington Lawyers' Committee, where she'll be responsible for building relationships with funding partners and gaining philanthropic support from local people and organizations, according to the release.

Paris is the group's first communications director, a newly formed leadership role responsible for creating a new communications department, to promote the committee's work to combat discrimination. She will also be responsible for promoting clients' success stories and newly published research reports.

Paris has over 20 years of experience working with communications matters and has worked for public and private agencies including the U.S. Department of Labor, the White House, the Federal Communications Commission, the Pew Charitable Trusts and the American Constitution Society, according to the release.

Paris studied political science and government at Tufts University, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Representatives from the Washington Lawyers' Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

--Additional reporting by Alison Knezevich. Editing by Karin Roberts.

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