“In my life I saw that the folks who made the most change in society were either lawyers or preachers,” he said. “I knew I probably wasn’t going to be a preacher.”
But even without the benefit of a pulpit, he had a substantial impact on the region’s business, government and legal landscape. A former special chief counsel for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, he helped to secure a $6.7 billion tobacco settlement for the state. Before retiring a year and a half ago, he handled groundbreaking intellectual property and antitrust work at agribusiness giant Monsanto for much of two decades. Before that, the Washington University MBA graduate headed the tort litigation department at Ameren for 14 years after working at Husch, Eppenberger, Donohue, Elson & Cornfeld — a forerunner to today’s Husch Blackwell.
Shelton’s list of honors and accolades include recognitions from entities ranging from legal groups to magazines. He’s been named among 10 outstanding St. Louisans by the Junior Chamber of Commerce and one of 100 most inspiring St. Louisans by the NAACP. Declared a “Legal Legend” by the St. Louis Argus, he also has been recognized as one of the best corporate in-house lawyers in the state by Missouri Lawyers Media.
The first African American president of The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, Shelton also has held roles with the Mound City and Missouri bar associations. He is a past regional director of the National Bar Association and chaired the American Bar Association’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity.
In addition to his legal work, Shelton also has served on numerous governing boards including the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, the Bi-State Development Agency, Children’s Hospital and others.
One of 10 children, Shelton grew up on the Northside of St. Louis with his father pulling double duty as a cab driver and auto worker for 40 years to make ends meet. He still recalls when his dad had to file a workers’ compensation claim.
“We ran into issues that lawyers helped us overcome,” he said. “I always felt that was pretty cool.”
It was cool enough to encourage him to go to law school at Saint Louis University after which he clerked for U.S. District Judge Clyde Cahill.
Progress has been made in promoting diversity since then, but much remains to be done, Shelton said. While hosting events on the topic, he said he has been surprised to discover how little the conversation has changed.
“I guess we have gotten better, but some of those same issues continue to rise in the discussion,” he said. “It was kind of weird that we had the same things back in the 1980s.”
At Ameren, he worked to boost minority hiring. At Monsanto, he helped to pair female and minority-headed contract firms with larger ones that had greater resources to assist the corporation with its legal needs.
“By and large, it kind of opened the door to a firm that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get its foot in that door,” he said.