June 2022 Bar Bulletin
By Bush Kornfeld
In 1993, a little history took place in the local bankruptcy bar. Before ascending to the bench, Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Glover had practiced with Gayle Bush at Hatch & Leslie, a well-known bankruptcy firm that had merged with Foster Pepper a year or two earlier. Gayle was one of the founding partners at the then-fledgling firm of Bush Kornfeld, which opened its doors in the summer of 1992. Never known as a shrinking violet, Judge Glover took it upon himself to call Gayle and recommend (or, as many who knew Judge Glover might assume, insist?) that Bush Kornfeld needed to hire Aimee Willig, a graduating law student. During her third year of law school, Aimee externed for the Honorable Sidney Volinn and also ended up assisting Judge Glover with his calendar when his law clerk took a leave. Aimee apparently made quite an impression on the two judges.
Fortunately, the firm took Judge Glover’s advice.
Almost 30 years later, Aimee, is a long-time partner at Bush Kornfeld. During those years, she has been a cornerstone of the firm as it developed a strong reputation for successfully representing businesses that faced financial and other existential challenges. In the process, Aimee has earned a reputation as one of the best restructuring/bankruptcy lawyers in the state.
Aimee moved to Seattle in the early 1980s. Following years of ballet training during her childhood, she continued to dance in the Seattle area, including training with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Several years later, she enrolled in Seattle University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in English/Literature. In those years, she began to develop one of her trademarks as a lawyer, a clear, concise, and engaging writing style that allows the reader to digest complex concepts.
Never one to have dust settle under her feet, Aimee attended law school at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, which happened to be Gayle Bush’s law school alma mater, joining Bush Kornfeld as its first new hire in August 1993. As an aside, the UPS School of Law is now the Seattle University School of Law, an interesting story of its own.
Known for her incredible work ethic, intelligence, engagement, and a strong will and commitment to keep moving forward no matter the challenges that present themselves, Aimee took quickly to the multi-faceted and quick moving practice of commercial bankruptcy and restructuring. No challenge was too daunting or overwhelming. Instead, to her, the issues were “fascinating” and “fun to learn about.”
Aimee’s curiosity helped her become the firm’s “go to” lawyer for the state of the law, the right procedural approach, or the status of a unique legal issue. She established the firm’s system of collecting the law and case information and briefing on all issues of interest, legal, factual, and business. She was also instrumental in the firm developing a system for handling the multi-faceted nature of representing a business in a chapter 11 case. From learning the business/industry, to preparing a complex filing that set forth myriad aspects of the business, to developing templates that could be utilized from case to case to provide an efficient and effective representation of the firm’s clients.
Memorable cases in Aimee’s career? The list is a long one, but a few stand out.
In 2008, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer were struggling financially under the weight of a joint operating agreement (who can remember two newspapers in the same city?). Bush Kornfeld was engaged to work with the Times to address these challenges. As luck would have it, the P-I decided to close its print operations in early 2009. Nevertheless, the Times faced some daunting challenges to its business model, as the online media took deep root and classified advertising revenue dried up. Aimee played a critical role in the efforts to complete a successful restructure of the Times that provided runway for it to rethink and rework its business model so that it survives today.
In 2010, Bush Kornfeld was engaged to represent the bankruptcy trustee in the Mike Mastro bankruptcy, the largest chapter 7 in the history of the district. Mastro owned hundreds of properties with convoluted ownership issues and competing secured creditors, including many that involved claims of fraud and misrepresentation. Aimee was the architect of the plan to address and resolve this collection of properties and byzantine issues. On the more colorful side of the case, Aimee successfully obtained an order from the Bankruptcy Court directing the FBI to turn over two very large diamond rings (can you say 17 carats?) to the bankruptcy trustee so that the rings could be sold to pay creditors. After two years focused exclusively on turnover of the rings from the Department of Justice, the actual turnover endeavor involved Aimee arranging permission with the court for an armed off-duty policeman to escort her and the trustee from the courthouse to the jeweler appointed by the court to take possession of the diamonds.
After newspapers and diamonds, it was time to turn to Seattle’s first love: coffee. In 2012, after struggling for years on the edge of financial demise, Tullys hired Bush Kornfeld to help it find a buyer to keep the business alive. Once again, Aimee was at the center of efforts to deal with a Seattle icon. Tullys successfully found a buyer, who was the high bidder in an auction against Starbucks. Many know, and many do not, that the Tullys buyer group was headed by none other than the now infamous Michael Avenatti.
Of all the high-profile cases that Aimee has been involved in over the years, her favorite has a different flavor. In the early 2000s, she was hired by a woman whose husband had recently died. Early in their 40-year marriage, the woman and her husband had purchased a number of contiguous properties that they hoped would help fund their retirement. After her husband’s death, the woman had been “convinced” to sell the properties to someone for $350,000, a fraction of what they were worth. The sale would leave the woman with precious little.
After a contentious chapter 11 fight with the “buyer,” Aimee succeeded in freeing the properties of the deceptive sale so that the woman could sell the properties for their fair value. During the chapter 11 case, the court approved a sale for $2.45 million, seven times the “forced” sale price. Not only was the woman overjoyed and overcome with gratitude, so was her family. Back in 2005, before videos could be easily recorded on a phone and immediately sent to someone, the entire family of 20 or more got together and filmed a video that they sent to Aimee. In the video, the family member held up letters that spelled “THANK YOU,” and joined in shouting “Thanks.”
It meant the world to Aimee, who has this to say about the experience, “That was such a meaningful and flat-out fun experience. That was and is, of course, the point of what we do as a firm.”
In many ways, Aimee is a lawyer’s lawyer. She continually hones her craft, educates herself on changes in the law and procedure, creates systems and templates that facilitate more effective representation of the firm’s clients, and feeds her curiosity by digging into new and unusual issues. And then, she uses her formidable talents and experience to go out and do good.
Isn’t that what lawyering is really all about?
Bush Kornfeld is the premier commercial restructuring law firm in the Pacific Northwest and this year marks its 30th anniversary. firstname.lastname@example.org.