David B. Owens Fires Up Advocacy for Civil Rights and Social Justice

Proud Husky alumnus David B. Owens, a self-described “surfer attorney at law,” is back on his old UW stomping grounds after spending just over a decade away in California, Illinois and Alabama.

At UW Law, Owens will teach the policing seminar. He has also launched the Civil Rights and Justice Clinic, a litigation clinic that focuses on civil rights cases in Washington, Illinois, California, Hawaii and beyond, including those involving police misconduct, such as excessive force or wrongful convictions.

Owens grew up just outside of Seattle, where he took early college credits at Green River College as part of the Running Start program at Auburn High School, where his mother was a teacher.

Early negative interactions with law enforcement taught Owens the realities of the power imbalance that exists in society, especially for Blacks and other people of color. “Those were hard experiences in the world that made me realize that by knowing the law myself, I could be a force to hold police and others in power accountable,” he said.

“Learning the law was my way of empowering myself and taking the power back, because in the law there is power,” Owens said. “Legal understanding and authority equalizes the playing field, in some respects.”

After graduating from the UW, where Owens completed two bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and political science, Owens moved to the Los Angeles area where he taught elementary education for two years with the Teach for America program.

He then headed to Stanford for a J.D. and M.A. in Philosophy. As a law student, Owens was the Senior Articles Editor of the Stanford Law Review and a member editor of the Stanford Environmental Law Journal. He earned Pro Bono distinction and served as a fellow at Stanford’s Levin Center for Public Interest.

Yet one evening at Stanford, campus police pulled Owens over as he rode an $80 beach cruiser bike on his way home from studying at the law library. What the police didn’t know is that they had pulled over a Gerald Gunther Prize winner for Outstanding Performance in Federal Courts and a member of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

After Owens cited Fourth Amendment law to the police, he was released to continue his way home from the law library. ”I had just seen power transference where it happens in real time,” he said. “It marked another example of society’s perceptions versus reality.”

The incident would come full circle in 2015 when Owens successfully sued a police officer and the City of Houston in the aftermath of the shooting death of Jordan Baker, an unarmed Black man stopped on his beach cruiser while committing no crime. The officer claimed Baker was suspicious because he was wearing a “hoodie.”

In 2022, Owens published “Violence Everywhere​​: How the Current Spectacle of Black Suffering, Police Violence, and the Violence of Judicial Interpretation Undermine the Rule of Law” in the Stanford Journal of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties.

After law school, Owens clerked for the Honorable Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and the Honorable Myron H. Thompson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in Montgomery.

In 2012, Owens became a civil rights litigator in state and federal courts throughout the country as an attorney at Loevy & Loevy, a national civil rights firm based in Chicago. Owens is now a partner at the firm. He litigates lawsuits involving constitutional violations that lead to wrongful convictions, police violence, First Amendment violations, and other civil-rights issues. Between 2012 and 2018, Owens also lectured at the University of Chicago Law School with a post-conviction innocence clinic called the Exoneration Project.

Owens also sits on the Innocence Network Board and is a member of the Legal Committee for the ACLU of Washington Foundation. He is admitted to the bar in California, Illinois and Washington.

Owens drew closer to home by moving back to Washington in 2018, where he continued building on his local community connections.

“[Professor Emeritus] Jackie McMurtrie helped me learn about an open position at UW,” he said. Owens sits on the project board of the Washington Innocence Project, founded by McMurtrie.

As for being back home, Owens is thrilled. “I’m old-school Seattle,” he declares. “I still hang out with the friends I met in middle school. This all worked out great because I always wanted to come back home and surf the coast here in Washington.”