Jonathan Smith Takes On Newly Created Senior Special Counsel Role at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee

Mr. Smith will focus on criminal justice reform and impact litigation

Gregg Kelley, Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, 202-319-1070

WASHINGTON – After six years leading the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, Jonathan Smith announced that he has decided to step down as Executive Director and will take a newly created position as Senior Special Counsel focusing on criminal justice reform and impact litigation. The Board will conduct a nationwide search for Jonathan’s successor, which it expects to take 6-9 months. Jonathan has agreed to continue as Executive Director until the successor is able to join the Committee.

Jonathan’s six years at the helm of the 54-year-old civil rights organization were marked by both landmark legal victories and organizational successes. During his tenure, the Committee successfully challenged a move to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program; pursued first of its kind litigation to protect the rights of tenants to organize in the District of Columbia; achieved sweeping reforms of the Prince Georges County Police Department employment practices; brought emergency litigation to protect the patients at the St Elizabeths Hospital and persons confined in the District’s federal halfway house at the outbreak of COVID; and protected students with disabilities in Virginia schools, among many others. In addition, Jonathan remained active in the national conversation on policing, leading the investigation into police-involved deaths of people in Fort Worth, Texas and Aurora, Colorado, among other matters.

Jonathan led the expansion of the Committee’s extensive programs including the weekly Workers’ Rights Clinic, participation in the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, and other services to members of the community. He oversaw the recent move of the Committee’s offices, the operation of the office through COVID, and significant upgrades to the organization’s technology and case management systems.

The Committee is in a strong position to welcome new leadership to build on its long and distinguished record as a leader in civil rights advocacy. It has a talented and dedicated staff, a docket of potential landmark impact cases, a generous and committed Board, and a strong vision for the future. The support of the private bar for the Committee is demonstrated by the significant success of both the Wiley A. Branton Awards Luncheon and Associates Campaign this year. Both fundraising campaigns broke existing records and exceeded budget expectations.

“We are grateful to Jonathan for his extraordinary leadership. In the past six years, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee brought – and won – landmark litigation to dismantle injustice, hit amazing new fundraising records, and met the incredible challenges of working throughout the pandemic, without missing a step,” said Jamie Gardner of Paul Hastings and the Co-Chair of the Committee’s Board of Directors. “The Washington Lawyers’ Committee is stronger and better than ever – and ready to take on new challenges. We look forward to continuing to work with Jonathan as he devotes his tremendous talents and experience to pursuing meaningful reform in the criminal legal system.”

Board Co-Chair Claudia Withers, the chief operating officer of DC-based Civil Rights Corps added, “With Jonathan at the helm, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee has continued its success in moving to create a future in which everyone has an equal opportunity to be themselves, fully and safely. He will continue to share his talents in this new role. While litigation is at the heart of the Committee’s work, its genius is in using all its gifts to transform our community. It is a pleasure to be a part of that effort.”

Jonathan has dedicated his career to civil rights and economic justice advocacy. He served in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice from 2010 -2015, was the executive Director of the Legal Aid Society, the Public Justice Center, and the DC Prisoners’ Legal Services Project, as well as an Associate Dean at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. He will continue to apply a career’s worth of experience to the work of the Committee in his new role.

“I am incredibly proud of the work we have done while I was the Executive Director of the Committee. The clients, staff, Board, and co-counsel partners constitute a community deeply committed to racial and economic justice. I very much look forward to supporting new leadership and dedicating myself full-time to legal advocacy,” Jonathan said.


About the Washington Lawyers’ Committee: Founded in 1968, The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs works to create legal, economic and social equity through litigation, client and public education and public policy advocacy. While we fight discrimination against all people, we recognize the central role that current and historic race discrimination plays in sustaining inequity and recognize the critical importance of identifying, exposing, combatting and dismantling the systems that sustain racial oppression. For more information, please visit or call 202.319.1000. Follow us on Twitter at @WashLaw4CR.

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