Midyear Meeting kicks off rare contested ABA presidential race
For the first time in years, the presidency of the ABA will be contested at the association's Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. The contested election is not for the next presidency of the association, which is scheduled to pass to president-elect, Robert Carlson of Montana, at the close of the ABA Annual Meeting in August. Nor is it for the president-elect position for 2018-19, for which Judy Perry Martinez is running unopposed.
Rather, it’s for president-elect in 2019-20, from which the officeholder will automatically assume the ABA presidency for 2020-21. Patricia Lee Refo of Arizona, the immediate past chair of the ABA House of Delegates, will face former ABA treasurer G. Nicholas Casey of West Virginia.
Though the Nominating Committee won’t nominate a candidate for the job until next January, Casey and Refo will address an open meeting of the Nominating Committee at the Midyear Meeting.
Casey says he’s running because he’s concerned about how the ABA has dealt with blows to revenue created by the decline in dues-paying members. Though ABA leaders have taken several steps to deal with that issue, Casey thinks the association should complement those with an effort to reduce duplication of efforts within the association.
For example, he notes that multiple ABA entities have projects dealing with diversity, and often they’re supported by staff members. Those efforts could be consolidated under one staff member, he suggests.
“That allows us to reduce an organization that’s designed for 500,000 down to an organization that can really meet its objectives for 300,000 people,” says Casey. “And it will save us resources while—the big part is—we do the dues reduction to help bring the membership back up.”
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 served as chief of staff to one of the state’s former governors. He is retired from the law firm of Lewis Glasser (formerly Lewis Glasser Casey & Rollins) in Charleston, West Virginia.
Although serving the two-year term as the chair of the House of Delegates has often been a path to the ABA presidency, Refo says she never took for granted that she would be elected president, and looks forward to “a spirited exchange of views on the future of the ABA.” She gave that future some thought as long ago as 2008 to 2011, when she chaired the ABA’s Standing Committee on Membership. In that role, Refo recommended adjusting dues, and some of those proposals are still in circulation, she notes. One suggestion she likes: Automatically including section membership—which members say is valuable to them—in ABA membership.
“The issues are essentially the same as they have been for some time,” she says. “We need to find a way to adjust our dues and adjust our value proposition to be of greater interest to the lawyers of America, and I’m optimistic that we can do that.”
Refo, who handles complex commercial litigation as a partner at Snell & Wilmer in Phoenix, has a long history with the ABA. She presently chairs ABA Day in Washington; 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.
Also running for office in 2019 are two candidates for ABA treasurer, Kevin Shepherd of Maryland and Timothy Bouch of South Carolina. Bouch, of Leath, Bouch & Seekings in Charleston, South Carolina, says in his candidate statement that the ABA must make hard financial decisions or “preside over a slow decline of our reserves.” He served on the Board of Governors, chairing its finance committee, from 2012 to 2015.
Shepherd’s candidate statement calls for the ABA to continue progress toward increasing membership and ensuring fiscal sustainability. He currently serves on the Board of Governors’ Finance Committee, and says he’s chaired the finance committee of his law firm, Venable, for nearly 20 years. He is a past chair of the ABA Section of Real Property, Trust and Estate Law.
All four candidates will speak at the Nominating Committee’s Meet the Candidates Forum, scheduled for 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Vancouver Convention Centre, West Level 2, Room 211-214. Voting will take place at the ABA’s 2019 Midyear Meeting in Las Vegas.
Follow along with our full coverage of the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting