HIGH PROFILE: Kevin Crass, senior partner at Little Rock's biggest law firm, is dedicated UALR supporter

Posted: October 7, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Updated: October 8, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

“He’s just a very humble, gracious but incredibly smart guy. Kevin is one of those attorneys who tend to be understated in a lot of ways but he’s always the one that people want to talk to.” — former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Kevin Crass' career path in law started with success on the basketball court that led to a college education.

"I've always been a big basketball fan," says Crass, a senior partner at Friday, Eldredge & Clark, who played high school hoops in Pine Bluff.

"It was a great community. It had already sort of weathered the integration storms. I recall we were moved to a non-neighborhood school in maybe my fifth- or sixth-grade year so by the time I got to junior high and high school it was an integrated public school."

He and his twin brother, Keith, were adopted as babies by Doris and Arlen Crass, but Doris died of a brain tumor when the boys were 5 years old. Their father remarried three years later to Melba McCombs Crass.

"Melba was technically my stepmother, but I refer to her as my mother. She had a son who was about 10 years older than me, and unfortunately he died in a car wreck," Crass says.

Keith Crass ran for the District 24 seat of the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2009. He died in his Hot Springs office just a week before the election.

"I got a call that you don't ever want, and he had collapsed in his office and he had died in the ER in Hot Springs, the Wednesday before the election. It got a lot of publicity as a result, but he ended up winning the race," he says. "It was tough."

Their father and stepmother didn't pressure the boys to pursue any particular path, whether in politics or in law.

Melba Crass was a hairdresser, and Arlen Crass worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. His father supported him in sports, rarely missing a practice and almost never missing a game.

"But he put no pressure on me to perform," he says.

Crass' high school ball skills helped him land a basketball scholarship to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

"We had a really good year in 1977, and we ended up going 30 and 1 and won the state championship," Crass says. "I would have gone to college, there's no doubt about that, but I probably wouldn't have gone to Ouachita Baptist University if they hadn't offered me a scholarship."

He had met Jay Dickey, who would later become a U.S. congressman, through Dickey's involvement with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Dickey encouraged him to study law.

Basketball remained a passion for him, even as he spent summers working in law offices rather than honing his skills on the court. After starting classes at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law in 1981, he began going to Trojans basketball games, first at Barton Coliseum and then at the Statehouse Convention Center.

His plan was to go into private practice in Pine Bluff, but he was recruited before he started law school by Buddy Sutton, a managing partner at the Friday firm who was at the OBU commencement ceremony where Crass spoke. Sutton was on the college's board of trustees, and he asked the college president about Crass that day.

"He said, 'Tell him when he starts looking for a summer clerkship to give me a call,' and I made note of that because at that time this was the biggest law firm, still is," Crass says of Sutton, who died in 2015.

Sutton hired him in 1982 as a summer law clerk, and he never left the firm.

HEART OF A TROJAN

Through the years, Crass continued supporting Trojans athletics. He and his wife, Cathy, will be honored at the 10th annual SpectacUALR, a benefit for Trojan Athletics at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Jack Stephens Center at UALR.

"He's an extremely modest person, and I think there are so many things that he does behind the scenes that move the needle for our university and our athletics department, and he never misses an opportunity to advocate for us," says Chasse Conque, vice chancellor and director of athletics at UALR. "Kevin's personality and his demeanor is what makes this so fun. He's got one of the biggest hearts of anybody I know so to be able to honor him and Cathy, it's just fun to do."

The athletic department created an award in Crass' honor two years ago.

"The Kevin Crass Heart of a Trojan Award is given to a senior every year [who] exemplifies everything Kevin is about," Conque says. "It's academics, it's community, it's being a leader, it's the work within their own team, it's being a good representative of Little Rock's team."

Crass was the first chairman of the Trojan Athletic Council established by Conque, and he remains on the board. He has served on several other boards and committees as well.

Cathy Crass insists that while she and her husband are co-honorees, he's the one most deserving of recognition by UALR.

"We're both really involved with Little Rock and we care about Little Rock a whole lot and we feel like UALR is an important part of our community," she says. "He knows how beneficial playing sports was for him and the opportunities it can give to students and that's why he does all that he does there."

Conque says 82 percent of the university's athletes complete their degrees.

"Traditionally we have had the highest graduation success rate in the state of Arkansas," he says.

"Sports has been a big part of our personal family life. It's something that we share," Cathy says. "Also, UALR has a really good graduation rate -- they're really proud of having those athletes leave with a college degree. That's important to us, that it's a well-run program."

Joel Anderson, chancellor emeritus of UALR, invited Crass to serve on the UALR Board of Visitors.

"I never failed to enjoy meeting or talking with Kevin," Anderson says. "He enjoys a good laugh. Of course he can give hard-headed advice with the analytical mind of a lawyer, for example when you are looking at candidates for head coach, but what is more impressive is that he also brings a big heart."

He met his future wife through mutual friends. She was a volunteer in Little Rock Public Schools while their boys, Ted and Will, were growing up, and she's a leader in the Stephen Ministry at their church, Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock.

"Most people who know us think that Cathy is the best part of me," he says.

She was a student at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, while he was a student at OBU.

"I had friends at Ouachita who had gone to high school with her, she had friends at Fayetteville who had gone to high school with me -- and they were telling us you need to meet," he says.

WAR MEMORIAL STADIUM

Dr. Lowry Barnes became a UALR supporter because of Crass, his friend since childhood. He also appreciates Crass' commitment to a beloved Little Rock landmark.

"I really enjoy Kevin's commitment to War Memorial Stadium and am excited for him every time something good occurs around this state landmark. I remember so well driving from Pine Bluff to Little Rock with Kevin -- he was 16 a year before me -- parking at Park Plaza mall, going to the Razorback game, and running to the car after the game to beat the crowd."

Crass, chairman of the War Memorial Stadium Committee, remembers his first trip to War Memorial for a Razorbacks game.

"I had to think it through but I came in 1968 to a game at War Memorial so I would have been 9," Crass says. "There was tailgating but it wasn't to the extent that the stadium has it now. It was literally you parked in a spot ... and you ate out of your trunk."

The eight-member independent stadium commission still exists, although the stadium is now operated by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Crass was happy to discuss the agreement reached between the University of Arkansas and the parks department to continue having Razorbacks games at War Memorial. The next Little Rock game is Saturday against the University of Mississippi.

MIKE HUCKABEE

At the Friday firm, Crass is a a civil litigator, representing mostly corporations in disputes through the court or through arbitration. He heads up the class action litigation group at the firm, and he has had a couple of interesting side gigs -- one as former Gov. Mike Huckabee's personal attorney and as representation for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Crass, who started his career as a Democrat, was introduced to Huckabee by Dickey.

"I still stayed pretty close to Jay and I helped him in his campaign almost out of a sense of loyalty," he says. "I don't know if I was hung up on political issues, it was more about relationships."

Bud Cummins, a friend of Crass', was chief counsel for Huckabee but he advised Huckabee to retain a personal attorney and Dickey recommended Crass.

"Jay was kind of the common ground between us because Jay knew Kevin from Pine Bluff and I knew Jay from Pine Bluff. He was the one who initially connected us," Huckabee says. "Jay told me he was a great lawyer and he said you need someone to be your personal attorney. I thought, 'Well, I don't need a personal attorney.' Well, I certainly did, a whole lot more than I wanted to."

Huckabee and Crass became friends, hunting together and spending time with their families.

"I think the world of Gov. Huckabee. I watched his children grow up and helped them some along the way when they had issues -- nothing serious," Crass says.

He notes the role of Huckabee's daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, as White House press secretary.

"It's tough to watch her take the criticism that she's taking. I just think the world of Sarah -- I watched her grow up and I know her husband and they're just good folks. They're just in a high profile position with a very difficult president," says Crass, who says he voted for Donald Trump but has concerns about the administration.

"He's just a very humble, gracious but incredibly smart guy," Mike Huckabee says. "Kevin is one of those attorneys who tend to be understated in a lot of ways but he's always the one that people want to talk to. He's very thoughtful and deliberate when he's giving advice and it's easy to get all excited and become impetuous -- he's very unlike me in some of those respects which was very helpful."

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Crass' legal representation of Huckabee is what led to his being retained as a lawyer for the Bush/Cheney campaign.

Because of his work on that national campaign, he was asked if there were any appointments he might be interested in. That's how he came to be appointed by President George W. Bush to the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

"I served on that for several years and that took me to Washington and most of the people on that committee -- there were people from all 50 states -- were very political. I mean, they were folks who were in the trenches -- big donors, activists and things like that and I was there mainly as a lawyer to politicians," he says.

He had worked as an intern for U.S. Rep. Kaneaster Hodges, D-Newport, the summer after his freshman year at Ouachita after hearing from someone he knew at school say his brother, Hodges' chief administrative assistant, was looking for interns.

"I don't think I'd ever even been on an airplane. I loaded up a bag and lived in Washington for a summer and it was just an eye-opening experience for me," he says. "We lived in an apartment building at 508 E. Capitol and I walked by the Supreme Court Building every day and on weekends we just hung out on the Capitol Mall. It was really a great experience. One reason I was so interested in the Kennedy Center was so I could get back to Washington."

He has no political aspirations, though Dickey did convince him to run for the Constitutional Convention while he was in college. If he does decide to throw his hat in the political ring some day, he'll have plenty of supportive friends.

Razorbacks standout U.S. Reed, who played basketball with Crass in Pine Bluff, remembers him as a team player.

"If you watch the series Star Trek, you always have a logical one -- that was a Mr. Spock -- so he was our Mr. Spock on the basketball team," Reed says. "Our team had many talents but he was the one who would give us the big shots for the games and he was a real important person on our basketball team for how he thought things out. He was a real smart guy and he's smart today."

“If you watch the series Star Trek, you always have a logical one — that was a Mr. Spock — so he was our Mr. Spock on the basketball team. Our team ha...

NAN Profiles on 10/07/2018

Self Portrait

Kevin Arlen Crass

Date, place of birth: April 11, 1959, Little Rock.

My favorite meal is: Filet, rice and portobello mushrooms. I love to grill out.

Five people I would invite to a fantasy dinner party: I would like to sit down with some of the basketball coaches in my life – Huelan Curtis, Al Flanigan, Joe Ball, Jerry Rook, Nelson Catalina and Bill Vining.

Something I always have with me: My phone.

My most precious childhood memory: Our family used to travel around and camp. We went to Lake Catherine State Park, the Little Red River and to Branson a lot.

Someday I want to: See War Memorial sold out.

I want to be known for: Just doing the right thing.

My best sports memory: Winning the state championship in 1977.

My kids would say I’m: Supportive.

A book I read recently and liked was: President Clinton’s book, The President Is Missing. We were on a cruise. We were in Russia when I was reading it. It’s very realistic and I just didn’t want to put in down. I’m not a big fiction reader, though. I just started Ken Starr’s book.

I’m most comfortable: Among friends.

One word to sum me up: Blessed.