May 2021 Bar Bulletin
By Christopher L. Young
I first met Shelly Crocker in 2012. It was the spring quarter of my 1L year and I was at home studying, Corbin on Contracts in hand, when I heard a knock at my front door. Standing on my porch was Shelly Crocker, candidate for the state legislature. As I listened to her thoughtful platform, I had no idea what an exceptional attorney and person this candidate was. To my good fortune, I have come to know Ms. Crocker over the passing years. What follows is a brief introduction to a person who has much to share about practicing law and contributing to our community.
Ms. Crocker is the principal and owner of Shelly Crocker, LLC, which assumes control of and rehabilitates distressed assets and organizations, typically in state court receiverships. A receiver’s role “is to be a fiduciary for the creditors, employees, and other stakeholders.” Among other things, Ms. Crocker describes herself as a problem solver. “I see both bankruptcy and receivership as legal tools to help businesses achieve their goals — restructuring debt or equity and putting themselves back on the road to financial security.” Typically, entities placed into receivership are for-profit limited liability companies, however, Shelly Crocker, LLC is currently the general receiver of the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI), a local non-profit research institution.
Profit may not be a motivating factor but “IDRI has been the most complicated business I have ever been a part of,” Ms. Crocker notes. “Working for an infectious disease research institute during the pandemic has been the challenge of a lifetime.” When Ms. Crocker stepped onto the scene, significant layoffs had left the remaining staff deeply distrustful and insecure. Additionally, IDRI’s live animals and viruses demanded immediate attention to ensure, among other things, the safety of IDRI and its Eastlake community. IDRI’s assets and resources, including its remaining staff, needed to be protected and managed. Winning over the remaining staff, including IDRI’s dedicated CEO, Dr. Corey Caspar, “was the key to restoring operations and responding to the COVID crisis.” Fortunately for IDRI, and all of us, Ms. Crocker is the right person for the job.
Todd Tracy, local attorney and insolvency expert, describes Ms. Crocker as “smart, tenacious, and strategic.” But that’s just scratching the surface. Mr. Tracy also notes that Ms. Crocker brings empathy and a love for fun to her projects. “Her laugh is truly identifiable and can awaken an otherwise quiet room!”
But how did Ms. Crocker become our region’s non-pareil problem solver? In short, through a full life rich with diversity and perspective. Born in Georgia and raised in Detroit and Minnesota, Ms. Crocker grew up in the turbulent 1960s and 70s. Looking back at her childhood, Ms. Crocker confides that a strong sense of the injustice in the world has remained with her to this day: “I was not happy about the things I was not supposed to do because I am a girl.” Even today, Ms. Crocker is often the only woman in the boardroom.
In 1978, Ms. Crocker came out as lesbian and, in 1984, married Sandy Kibort in a private backyard wedding. Nearly thirty years later, when same sex marriage was finally afforded legal recognition, the happy couple formalized their marriage in a large ceremony performed by Rabbi Jill Borodin and the Hon. Anne Levinson.
Prior to enrolling in law school, Ms. Crocker obtained her master’s degree in philosophy. “I fell in love with a fairly obscure French continental philosopher named Emmanuel Levinas,” Ms. Crocker recalls. “At heart, his theory is that ethics is the root of all philosophy, and that we are called as humans to respect and care for each other. Justice is the communal response to the ethical obligation to each other person, and must take all our diversities into account.” And while much of Ms. Crocker’s career has been devoted to commercial law, her background in philosophy has contributed to her interest “in how law operates to sustain racial, gender, and other inequalities and inequities, and can be used to disrupt those inequities and bring about a more just world.”
Ms. Crocker was “very politically active” in law school and was elected president of her local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. In that role, Ms. Crocker worked in coalition with the Black Law Student Association and other student groups to fight for affirmative action policies and hate crime legislation, and against police brutality and laws targeting reproductive rights.
As frequently happens, the crucible of law school forged lasting friendships for Ms. Crocker, who has discovered in those crucial relationships not only kindness but also inspiration. Friend and classmate Keith Ellison, who currently serves as Minnesota’s Attorney General, was instrumental in forming Ms. Crocker’s understanding of race in America. Another law school friend provided some unexpected but pivotal advice: to investigate bankruptcy as a career. After all, it’s a small, specialized bar full of interesting, creative lawyers; a federal practice with ample opportunity for motions practice and court appearances; and significantly, a general practice, consisting of business and property law, with both federal and state statutes guiding the process.
After serving as a law clerk to the Washington Supreme Court, Ms. Crocker began her legal career as an associate at Perkins Coie. “Perkins is a great firm, and I was very fortunate to start my career there,” Ms. Crocker says. “I got great support and training that have been the foundation of my success.” By the same token, working for a large firm can restrict the type of client an attorney can represent. Among other barriers, conflict issues largely preclude big firms from representing debtors. Ms. Crocker’s desire to assist debtors rather than creditors led her to form the small bankruptcy boutique Crocker Kuno in 1997.
After managing Crocker Kuno for sixteen years and growing the firm from two attorneys to twelve, Ms. Crocker yearned to roll up her sleeves and get back into the trenches. After her unsuccessful political bid, Ms. Crocker founded Shelly Crocker, LLC and has brought her keen business sense to bear on troubled assets and companies. Generally, Ms. Crocker gets involved in complicated cases — whether such complications are operational, legal, or financial. Ms. Crocker describes her style as “very hands on,” involving both operational management and strategic guidance. Shelly Crocker LLC has rehabilitated companies in various industries from agriculture to wood products, and most everything in between, which is possible only because Ms. Crocker loves learning about new businesses and is a quick learner. “Coming into difficult situations with an open mind and a fresh set of eyes has been the key to my success.”
When not saving the world from infectious diseases, Ms. Crocker has volunteered on many nonprofit boards, and currently serves on the board of Bellwether Housing, an affordable housing developer in Seattle. Ms. Crocker finds solace in her garden where vegetables, ornamentals, and fruit trees enjoy Seattle shade. Ms. Crocker and Ms. Kibort have two adult daughters, Hannah and Emma, with whom they are very close. Additionally, religion remains a constant in Ms. Crocker’s life.
“From observing the Jewish calendar, holidays and lifecycle events, to how we raised our children and our deep ties to our synagogue community at Seattle’s Congregation Beth Shalom, being Jewish has shaped every aspect of how we live. I bring many of my Jewish values to work regularly,” she explains, “including the most central Jewish value of treating each person with compassion and respect.” A thoughtful echo of Monsieur Levinas.
As for what the future holds, Ms. Crocker envisions a more just world, filled with kindness and abundance. “My children are my legacy,” Ms. Crocker adds, “and I am very proud that they have chosen wonderful partners, Eli and Riley, to add to our family and have begun careers that aim to improve the world, one in medicine, and one in education policy.” Clearly, Ms. Crocker’s intelligence and perseverance enable her to execute her fiduciary duties and maximize value for stakeholders, but what is truly inspiring is her ability to guide healthy and sustainable growth, whether in the boardroom, C-suite, or courtroom, on the one hand, or the garden, the synagogue, or at the family dinner table, on the other hand. Please join me in celebrating Ms. Crocker and her many successes.
Christopher L. Young is an attorney and managing member of the Law Offices of Christopher L. Young, PLLC, and the editor of the Bar Bulletin. Chris can be reached at BarBulletinEditor@KCBA.org or (206) 407-5829.