David Chawes began volunteering for the King County Bar Association's Pro Bono Services (PBS) Housing Justice Project and Volunteer Legal Services (VLS) in 2006. He is a staunch advocate for PBS clients and says, "I have a strong desire to aid those without financial resources so they can more fully participate in our society."
Chawes was a certified industrial hygienist before becoming a lawyer. He served as environmental health and safety director for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and as health and safety manager for Hart Crowser, Inc., an environmental and geotechnical engineering consulting firm. As an attorney at Preg O'Donnell & Gillett, PLLC, Chawes represents clients in environmental, products liability, asbestos and construction-related cases.
KCBA Pro Bono Services honors Chawes as the November 2013 PBS Volunteer of the Month in recognition of his significant achievements on behalf of PBS clients. Chawes worked for more than three years on his most recent case for VLS.
The case arose when an individual, denied childhood survivor benefits by the Railroad Retirement Board, sought legal assistance from VLS in pursuing an appeal. Chawes and his firm accepted the case and appeared on the client's behalf in a hearing before a Board hearing examiner, who affirmed the denial of benefits.
Chawes filed an appeal to the full Railroad Retirement Board, which affirmed the hearing examiner's decision. Undeterred, he petitioned the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for discretionary review of the Board's decision. The Ninth Circuit accepted the case and after hearing oral arguments in Seattle, issued a 2-1 opinion reversing the Board's decision and awarding benefits to the client. The published decision is Stephens v. U.S. Railroad Retirement Bd., 704 F.3d 587 (9th Cir. 2012).
Chawes, who understandably called the Stephens case his most memorable volunteer experience, recently answered some questions for the KCBA Bar Bulletin:
Q. If you were not a lawyer, what profession would you choose?
A. I would be an astrophysicist, as the mysteries of the universe are so fascinating they need to be studied and understood if at all possible.
Q. Favorite quote?
A. "My favorite thing is to go where I've never been." Diane Arbus
Q. What do you think is the biggest challenge with assisting PBS clients?
A. Some are very desperate for a legal miracle so that their lives can be changed for the better, and it is quite hard to explain to them that such events are extremely rare.
Q. Words of advice for fellow volunteers?
A. Quoting the thank you card I received from a very happy pro bono client: "WE never gave up!"
Q. What was your favorite class in law school?
A. Advanced Legal Writing.
Q. Title of the last book you read?
A. 11/22/63 by Stephen King.
Q. Favorite comfort food?
A. Moo shoo chicken.
The King County Bar Association sincerely thanks Chawes for his passionate dedication and work on behalf of Pro Bono Services clients.
Gwen Remmen is KCBA's pro bono volunteer coordinator.