Yesterday and Today: Rucker “at Home” as New Federal Bankruptcy Judge
Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the May 24 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is the profile of a former member of the 40 under 40 class of The Business Journal.
In April, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Fayetteville attorney Bianca Rucker to a 14-year term as Arkansas’ new federal bankruptcy judge. In a recent interview, Rucker said the new job inside the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building in downtown Fayetteville is kind of back to basics.
Prior to the judicial appointment, Rucker had been Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee in the US Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Arkansas, since September 2016. She practiced primarily in Fayetteville before the judge she replaces. Judge Ben Barry retired on April 25 after completing his appointment as U.S. bankruptcy judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Arkansas.
After earning a Juris Doctor with Distinction in 2006 from the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Rucker moved to Fayetteville and spent the next five years as staff attorney. for two judges of the Bankruptcy Court of the United States, first for Richard Taylor and then for Barry.
“Starting here is no stranger to me,” Rucker said. “It was like coming home. I am so happy to come back and see the faces of so many people who have worked here while I have worked here before.
Rucker, 41, was sworn in on April 26 and recently delivered his first court hearing. His official investiture ceremony is tentatively scheduled for this fall in Fayetteville. She is one of three federal bankruptcy judges in Arkansas, serving the eastern and western districts of the state.
Rucker is only the fourth woman from Arkansas to be appointed federal bankruptcy judge, after Mary Davies Scott (appointed in 1987), Audrey Evans (2002) and Phyllis Jones (2015).
Rucker said she was honored that the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recommended her as Barry’s replacement. The Eighth Circuit oversees all bankruptcy judges in its seven state jurisdiction, including Arkansas.
Rucker called the role of a bankruptcy judge limited but essential.
“I am very fortunate that they have given me the responsibility,” she said. “The job is to listen to the facts and evidence and then apply the law. And it is important to be efficient. It involves people’s lives and finances, so you want to keep pushing the case forward. “
Rucker said being appointed to the federal bench was something she had strived to accomplish. She has represented parties from all sides of the bankruptcy process.
“During my second year [working for Judge Barry], I knew I wanted to be a bankruptcy judge someday, ”she said. “I tried to get the kind of experience that would make me a better candidate. “
She said the analytical approach a judge needs to take in reaching a decision on a case appeals to her.
“A judge does not argue for one side or the other, but focuses on the correct application of the law based on the evidence on file,” she explained. “Analyzing the law to determine the outcome is a way of thinking that I like. “
Prior to being appointed trustee in bankruptcy, Rucker was one of the state’s top bankruptcy lawyers. After five years as a lawyer at US Bankruptcy Court in Fayetteville, she went to work for Wright Lindsey Jennings at Rogers in 2011. Rucker focused her practice on bankruptcy, foreclosure and commercial litigation. She eventually became a partner and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored her as a member of her Forty Under 40 class in 2016.
Rucker said the transition from lawyer to judge is a bittersweet moment in his career. Above all, she will be missed by colleagues who have practiced bankruptcy law – and litigation.
Yet she knows what kind of judge she wants to be.
“I want to be fair,” she said. “At the end of the day, I want everyone to feel, whether they won or lost, that the judge heard them. And that it was a fair process, and they understand the decision. Both lawyers than their customers.
Rucker has served as president of the Northwest Arkansas Debtor and Creditor Bar Association, and is an assistant professor in the University of Arkansas Law School.