Candidates seek president, treasurer posts in rare election contests

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For the first time in years, the election of an ABA president will be a contested race. But it won’t be for the next presidency of the association, scheduled to pass to President-elect Robert Carlson of Butte, Montana, at the close of the ABA Annual Meeting in August. Nor is it for the president-elect position for 2018-19, which Judy Perry Martinez of New Orleans is running for unopposed.

Rather, it’s for president-elect in 2019-20; that officeholder will assume the 2020-21 presidency. Patricia Lee Refo of Phoenix, the immediate-past chair of the House of Delegates, will face G. Nicholas Casey of Charleston, West Virginia, a former ABA treasurer. Also running for office in 2019 are two candidates for treasurer, Kevin Shepherd of Baltimore and Timothy Bouch of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Nominating Committee won’t name a candidate for the job until next January, but the candidates spoke at a committee open meeting during the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Serving the two-year term as chair of the House of Delegates has often been a path to the ABA presidency. But Refo said she never took for granted that she would be elected president. She looks forward to “a spirited exchange of views on the future of the ABA.”

In her speech before the Nominating Committee, Refo quoted former University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler: “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. Nobody stays the same.”

“And I think that’s true for institutions as much as it is for people,” Refo said. “I am deeply optimistic about this association, and I know and believe that we are already on the road toward getting better. And by August of 2020, which is the term for which I am asking for your support, I believe we will already be a new institution on a path that has been agreed upon by everyone to address and move forward, so that we can stay on the important issues that are the outward-facing issues of our profession.”

Tracey Giles, chair of the Standing Committee on Membership, praised Refo’s work when she was in that position when introducing her before the Nominating Committee.

“She saw these trends and these difficulties in membership and financing coming in 2010 and before, and tried to warn people and tried to make changes,” Giles said. “Some of them were made; unfortunately many of them were not. But Lord knows she told us.”

Refo’s work as a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix also makes her the right candidate, Giles said.

Refo chairs the ABA Day Planning Committee, serves on the council of the Section of International Law, and has leadership roles in the Section of Litigation. Outside the ABA, her professional involvement includes service on rules of evidence committees for the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Arizona Supreme Court.

Addressing the committee and the other three candidates, Casey said, “Some would say, ‘Nick, we appreciate that you’ve got a pretty good background; you might actually understand the ABA completely after all these years’—I served three terms on the Nominating Committee—‘but Nick, it’s not your turn this time!’

“But let me tell you, when you lose 6,000 people in a third of a year, and you know you’re going to have these crises come before you, sometimes you’ve got to get out of turn. I think that I bring to you the ability, the experience, the transparency and kind of the backbone to be able to guide us in 2020 through the gap.”

Casey said his concerns about how the ABA has dealt with blows to revenue created by the decline in dues-paying members led him to enter the race. He thinks the association should complement recent ABA actions with an effort to reduce duplication of efforts within the association.

For example, he said multiple ABA entities have projects that deal with diversity, often supported by staff members. Those efforts could be consolidated under one staff member.

Casey’s financial background includes two stints as the finance chair of the Board of Governors and credentials as a certified public accountant. He’s a former president of the West Virginia State Bar and was chief of staff to one of the state’s former governors. He is retired from the law firm of Lewis Glasser in Charleston.


Timothy Bouch served on the Board, chairing its Finance Committee, from 2012 to 2015. Bouch pointed to his experience running large and small firms and said he’d met lawyers from across the nation through his practice.

“I think I understand lawyers and the financial pressures that are on them,” Bouch told the committee. “You’ve heard throughout this meeting the ABA has some financial challenges. Headwinds, I think some have called it. But we’re lawyers. We got this. We can handle it.”

Kevin Shepherd is on the Board’s Finance Committee and has chaired the finance committee of his law firm, Venable, for about 20 years. He is a past chair of the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law.

“We are all familiar with the challenges we are facing, ranging from declining dues-paying membership to lack of growth in nondues revenue to the evolving and changing needs of our members to the erosion of our reserves,” Shepherd told the committee. “The board has worked hard to address these issues in a proactive, meaningful fashion, and we’ve made progress. But more hard work and difficult decisions lie ahead. Indeed, we’ve already made the easy decisions.”

Updated on Jan. 23, 2019 to fix a typo in a subhead.

Read the rest of our ABA Midyear Meeting coverage.

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