Washington Lawyers’ Committee Welcomes New Leadership Team

Ryan Downer named the new legal director; Melissa Nussbaum joined as development director

WASHINGTON – The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, a 55-year-old civil rights organization, announced that Ryan Downer, Melissa Nussbaum, and Linda Paris joined the new leadership team. 

“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,” said Joanne Lin, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. “In this moment when, we are building a mighty army of lawyers and advocates, litigating and educating people to know and keep their rights.” 

Ryan Downer, an experienced litigator, is the new legal director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Ryan brings to WLC more than 15 years of experience litigating civil rights cases, primarily focusing on criminal legal system reform and economic justice. His position plays a key role in the organization. He will supervise a legal program covering the DC, Maryland and Virginia area and a wide range of statutory and constitutional issues in federal and state courts. 

Prior to WLC, Ryan served as director of litigation at Civil Rights Corps, where he oversaw cases challenging the criminalization of poverty, particularly in the areas of prosecutor misconduct and wealth-based pretrial detention. Ryan’s direct casework at CRC included challenge to the New Orleans’ district attorney’s use of fake subpoenas; a lawsuit targeting Maricopa County’s blatant wealth discrimination in its marijuana diversion program; and CRC’s efforts to protect detainees in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ryan also previously served as counsel at Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC in Washington, D.C. and associate counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (LDF) in New York. At Relman and LDF, Ryan litigated in the areas of fair housing, employment, environmental justice, and public accommodations at the district court and appellate level, including two of the first cases to challenge blanket criminal records bans imposed by private housing providers. 

Ryan received his J.D. cum laude from New York University. He clerked for The Hon. Martha Craig Daughtrey of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Ryan is a native of Baltimore, MD and received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College. 

Melissa Nussbaum, a proven fundraiser, is the new development director, responsible for building relationships with our funding partners and securing philanthropic support from people and organizations, who help to fuel our civil rights programs in the DMV.

Melissa has over 20 years of experience leading fundraising for national and international non-profit organizations such as Exponent Philanthropy, The World Wide Web Foundation and Search for Common Ground.  

Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boston College and a Master of Public Policy in international policy and development from The McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.  She was a USAID Emerging Markets Development Fellow at Save the Children Hanoi.  

Linda Paris has been named as the organization’s first communications director. This new leadership position is responsible for creating a new communications department that will promote the organization’s work in fighting discrimination, client success stories and research reports.

Linda has over 20 years of experience as a communications strategist in state and federal government agencies, such as the US Department of Labor, White House and Federal Communications Commission, as well as at nonprofits and membership organizations, such as The Pew Charitable Trusts and the American Constitution Society. She has served as the face of government agencies and nonprofits interacting with senior executives, customers, and major media outlets.

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.

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