President's Report Summer 2009



June 11, 2009

The President's Report,
ABOTA's official newsletter, is now an electronic publication that is e-mailed to members.



In This Issue

Report of the President

Sherry Zhang addresses National Board

Washington wins 2008 Chapter of the Year Award

H. Gilbert Jones receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Foundation News

Committee Reports


Upcoming Calendar

Chapter News

Membership Report


Featured Article


Anecdotal evidence is strong that Lincoln met ABOTA's membership requirements



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John L. Holcomb


Craig Lewis

Vice President

Harry T. Widmann


Mark P. Robinson, Jr.


Michael T. Callahan


Editorial Board
John M. Bickel, Co-Chair
Jack Wurgaft, Co-Chair
Christopher J. Day
David Grant Halpern
Jay Harris
James M. Hartman
Steven J. Kirsch
Bruce R. Pfaff
Donald R. Shultz
Grady F. Tollison
Harry T. Widmann
Lish Whitson

Executive Director

Brian W. Tyson

Brent Combs Design
(214) 987-3816




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Working to energize our chapters while
bringing more soldiers to the fight

By John L. Holcomb
2009 National President

    The year 2008 was an extraordinary 12 months for the American Board of Trial Advocates as we celebrated our 50th anniversary.  William C. Callaham, 2008 National President, was an excellent leader, who enthusiastically carried the ABOTA flag throughout the United States by visiting dozens of chapters. We had much to celebrate last year as we chronicled how this organization began in 1958 and grew from a small cadre of experienced trial attorneys to a national organization of seasoned trial attorneys.
    As your President in 2009, my primary, overall objective is to continue to lead this organization in fulfilling its mission to protect and promote the Seventh Amendment.  In doing so, I have identified two specific initiatives as ABOTA looks at its next 50 years. One, I look to strengthen our less-active chapters by helping them refresh the energy they once had. Second, we are mapping out ways to increase our membership by continuing efforts to recruit lawyers who will qualify under the stringent ABOTA criteria.

Assistance is Available to All Chapters

    Chapters become less active for variety of reasons. But we have noted that even a small spark will ignite a chapter, mainly because ABOTA promotes and defends the Constitutional guarantee of the civil trial by jury. If you are a member of a chapter of ABOTA that is not as active as you believe it should be, I encourage you to contact the Co-chairs of our Chapter Relations and Revitalization Committee. Timothy L. Barnes of Northern New Jersey and Michael P. Maguire of Orange County (California), are ready, willing and able to assist your chapter in becoming more active and successful in promoting our mission. Both Tim and Mike are members of chapters that have previously received the Chapter of the Year Award. In addition, Tim has served as your National Secretary and Mike as your National Treasurer.

Success in Sarasota
     I would like to thank everyone who attended the first National Board Meeting of 2009 in Sarasota, Fla., Jan. 16-17. It was a privilege to be sworn in by a Harvard Law graduate who is an ABOTA member and past Florida Jurist of the Year - the Honorable Chris W. Altenbernd. Judge Altenbernd is a man who epitomizes the model ABOTA lawyer. He has proven himself in the courtroom and on the bench. In addition, he has given back to his profession and his community.
    Our Sarasota meeting was a success on a substantive, social and financial level. My thanks are extended to the Tampa Bay Chapter, FLABOTA, and my law firm, Hill Ward Henderson, for sponsoring our social events at the meeting.
    FLABOTA President Patricia D. Crauwels and Tampa Bay Chapter President-elect Howard Hunter are to be commended for putting together an excellent Masters in Trial program, which preceded the National Board Meeting in Sarasota.
    Honored in Sarasota was Gordon S. Rather Jr., who was awarded the Mark P. Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award by the ABOTA Foundation - the first-ever award presented by the Foundation. Gordon was the 1986 National President of ABOTA and continues to be a tireless advocate of everything that ABOTA stands for.

Chapter Visits
     One of the great honors of being President of this organization is to travel to our chapters and break bread with members from across the country. After Sarasota, I had the privilege of visiting chapters in Sacramento, Calif., South Carolina, Los Angeles, Orange County (California) and Mississippi. I am happy to report that these chapters are among the best, most active in America.

Expanding ABOTA's Leadership Base
    Thanks to the efforts of Michael T. Callahan (Tampa Bay) and Harry T. Widmann (Louisiana), we had a very successful Leadership Conference in New Orleans on Feb. 13.  More than half of our chapters were represented.  The enthusiasm of those who attended was exemplified when a standing ovation was given to Mick and Harry for their efforts.

New Roundtable Committee Launches Study to Promote Trial Advocacy in Law Schools
     On the legislative front, we had an excellent meeting of the American Civil Trial Bar Roundtable in Washington, D.C. The Roundtable decided to create a committee to study how the participants of the Roundtable can work together to promote teaching civil trial advocacy in our law schools.  A good example of this is the "Civility Matters" DVD originated by David B. Casselman and the Professionalism, Ethics and Civility Committee. Any ABOTA member who would like a copy of this worthwhile DVD should contact the National Office at (800) 93-ABOTA (932-2682).
    The Roundtable charged ABOTA with the opportunity to organize this special committee to study civil trial advocacy in law schools across the country. I chose Christopher A. Duggan (Massachusetts) to lead this collaborative effort.  Chris has done tremendous work in expanding the Massachusetts Chapter and in creating the James Otis Lecture Series, which is held on Constitution Day each year. We look forward to Chris' report at the next Roundtable meeting in September.

How to Protect the Jury Trial
    We had a hugely successful National Jury Summit preceding our National Board Meeting in San Francisco in April. Joshua A. Whitman (Jacksonville, Fla., Chapter) is to be congratulated for assembling an excellent group of speakers with diverse backgrounds to participate in our summit. Thanks again to Wylie A. Aitken (Orange County) and Donna D. Melby (Los Angeles) for sparking this idea and continuing to participate in our summits. The concept of the summit was to exhibit models of success in educating the public about jury trials.

National Board Meets in San Francisco
    The second National Board meeting of the year held at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco was highly attended. It was a great privilege to present ABOTA National's Lifetime Achievement Award to 1989 National President, H. Gilbert Jones, for all of the work he has done and continues to do for ABOTA.

Southeastern ABOTA Chapters Meet in Memphis
    Shortly after the National Jury Summit and San Francisco Board Meeting, SEABOTA held its convention in Memphis, Tenn.,  April17-18. SEABOTA President Grady F. Tollison Jr., put together an informative and fun program at the famous Peabody Hotel.  
    Following the SEABOTA Convention I had the privilege of traveling to St. Louis to participate in a successful Masters In Trial program. Martin K. Morrisey is to be commended for a job well done.

Executive Committee Meets in Dallas
    The Executive Committee's third meeting of the year was held in Dallas in May.  Fortunately, the Dallas Chapter hosted a new member reception. The chapter is an excellent example of how ABOTA interacts with judges on a local level, works with other chapters on a state level, and also participates on a national level. It was a special pleasure to see Past National President, Robert G. Vial, and former Masters in Trial Award winner, Lisa Blue, at the reception.

Continually Looking Forward
    As you can see, it has been thoroughly rewarding during these first six months as President as I have had the opportunity to meet so many members and chapter leaders. I look forward to upcoming chapter visits and ABOTA's international meeting, as well as other state, regional and national meetings.
    Should there be anything I can do to assist your chapter in realizing its potential, please do not hesitate to call me or contact the National Office. We must succeed in growing across America - in small and large areas of population - so we will always have members ready to fight for the jury trial at a moment's notice.




Sherry Zhang addresses National Board regarding Gao Zhisheng

2007 Courageous Advocacy Award recipient
remains in Chinese custody

     After years of house arrests and harassment by the China communist regime, the wife and two children of Chinese human rights attorney Gao Zhisheng fled China and arrived safely in Los Angeles in March, said Sherry Zhang, spokesperson for Gao Zhisheng. Zhang addressed ABOTA's Board of Directors in San Francisco on April 4.
     Zhang, of the Sound of Hope Radio Network, accepted the Courageous Advocacy Award for Gao Zhisheng in 2007. She said that international support and an avalanche of good will is what helped bring about Gao's family placed in safety. She expressed thanks to ABOTA for its support.


     Gao Zhisheng was the 2007 recipient of ABOTA's Courageous Advocacy Award. He is a leading dissident lawyer and writer, and is known for his writings on social justice and democracy. In 2005, his law firm was shut down by the Chinese authorities. In 2006, according to an official statement, Gao Zhisheng was accused of posting nine "seditious articles" and conducting 10 interviews with overseas media, which "defamed" China's central government and amounted to agitation aimed at overthrowing the state. The statement claimed the court had showed leniency by handing down a suspended sentence as Gao Zhisheng had "voluntarily reported other people's offences and provided important clues to crack other cases."








H. Gilbert Jones receives
Lifetime Achievement Award

1989 National President honored at National Board Meeting
with highest honor


       ABOTA presented the Lifetime Achievement Award, its highest honor, to past National President H. Gilbert Jones. Jones was honored at the National Board of Directors meeting in San Francisco April 4.
     A fixture within ABOTA almost since its inception 50 years ago, Jones is of counsel in the Orange County office of the firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP. In 1963 at age 35, he was inducted into ABOTA, at that time an organization only five years old. He was the 156th member of ABOTA. He is a past president of the Los Angeles Chapter and served as National President of ABOTA in 1989.
     Jones joins only four others who have received the Lifetime Achievement Award, ABOTA's highest form of recognition honoring an individual whose leadership efforts have advanced the preservation of the right to trial by jury guaranteed by the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As the fifth recipient of the award, he joins Mark P. Robinson (2001), the Hon. William J. Rea (2002), Kermit J. Morgan (2004) and Robert D. Barbagelata (2004) as the other award recipients.
     Jones' reputation as a top trial lawyer includes trying to conclusion more than 175 jury trials, earning him the rank of ABOTA Diplomate, ABOTA's highest membership rank. He has handled and argued important cases in the Supreme Court of California and other appellate courts.



John L. Holcomb (left), Alan I. Dunst, H. Gilbert Jones, Julia Jones and Mary Holcomb





  ABOTA Foundation presents first-ever Mark P. Robinson
  Lifetime Achievement Award to Gordon S. Rather, Jr.

       The ABOTA Foundation presented its highest honor to Gordon S. Rather, Jr. - the
  Mark P. Robinson Lifetime Achievement Award - on Jan. 17. Rather is the first recipient
  of the award.
       Rather is a longtime ABOTA member from Little Rock, Ark., who was National
  President of ABOTA in 1996. He has been a member of the association's National Board
  of Directors since 1989 and has chaired multiple committees and served as President of
  the Arkansas Chapter (1987-1988). In 1994, he received the Foundation's Masters in
  Trial Award.


  Edward J. Nevin of San Francisco receives 2008 Masters in
  Trial Award

       The ABOTA Foundation presented its annual Masters in Trial Award on Jan. 17 to
  Edward J. Nevin of the San Francisco Chapter of ABOTA. Nevin, 2003 National
  President, has traveled nationally and internationally to serve as a faculty member to
  numerous Masters in Trial programs.





Committee Reports

Amicus Curiae:  The Amicus Curiae Committee, which acts as a subcommittee of the Civil Justice Committee, is considering requests for ABOTA to prepare and file a brief as amicus curiae briefs impacting the right to trial by jury and issues of professionalism. Interested brief writers are encouraged to join the committee. Please contact the National Office in this regard.

- Richard H. Honaker, Chair

Attorney Advertising:  The committee has canvassed the legal community looking for states that had adopted advertising rules that had been scrutinized by the courts of their respective states. Copies of those states' rules were obtained and reviewed. As a result, the committee drafted a document - "Principles for Attorney Advertising" - that could be used by the bar associations, legislatures or state supreme courts of the states that did not have rules in place.

- Phillip A. Baker and Andrew Russell Blank, Co-chairs

Awards:  Sept. 1 is the deadline for Chapter of the Year nominations. The Chapter of the Year Award is given to the chapter that exhibits exemplary activity and hard work that furthers the goals of ABOTA. Elements of a nomination include, but are not limited to: Growth in membership; Pro bono and scholarship contributions; Diversity; Collegiality and camaraderie; Social activities; Collaboration; Community involvement; Professional education; Youth education; Judicial involvement; State involvement; History; and Fellows participation. Send nomination materials to the ABOTA National Office, attention Brian W. Tyson (, Executive Director.  Should you have questions about the nomination process, call the National Office at (800) 932-2682.

- Alan I. Dunst and William W. Weathers, Co-chairs

Chapter Relations and Revitalization:  The Committee has made progress with a number of chapters, including Kentucky, Eastern Pennsylvania and Virginia. The committee is working to identify a ladder of leadership with 2-3 succeeding presidents committed to activate and keep the momentum going in chapters....Discussion continues regarding the formation of a Northeast ABOTA regional organization...The committee is working with the National Office to create a publication or package that will contain tips for successful chapter functions and brochures or handouts. Most of this material is already available, but we discussed perhaps developing a brochure about ABOTA... Southern New Jersey has inquired about readmitting former members who may have dropped out when the local chapter was less active. The consensus was that the Chapter Relations & Revitalization Committee ought to recommend chapters designated for revitalization be allowed to readmit former members upon payment of application fees and current-year dues without regard to past dues.

- Timothy L. Barnes and Michael P. Maguire, Co-chairs

Civil Justice Committee:  The committee is examining the use of electronic devices in the jury box, as well as the use of social networking sites, such as FaceBook and Twitter.

- Wayne Hogan and William R. Sieben, Co-chairs

Constitution and Bylaws:  A recommendation that the expenditure of general funds by the organization that can be authorized by the Executive Committee be increased from $15,000 to $25,000 (Bylaw II, Section 3 (5)). The amount was originally set in 1992 at $15,000. The $15,000 figure is low by today's financial standards....A recommendation was made to change the Professionalism, Ethics and Civility and Committee from a "Special Committee" to a "Standing Committee." Since 1997, the three current Standing Committees - Membership, Long Range Planning and Policies, and Civil Justice - as they exist today began. Prior to 1997, other Standing Committees appeared (Public Relations, Ways and Means, just to name a few). Since civility is a key component to ABOTA's stringent membership requirements, it is felt that it should be a more permanent fixture (Bylaw III, Section 1:  Standing Committees).

- Lish Whitson, Chair

Financial Accountability and Responsibility:  The committee made revisions to the ABOTA Financial Guidelines and submitted the changes to the Executive Committee for approval. The Executive Committee approved the revisions on April 2.

- H. Gilbert Jones and Gordon S. Rather, Jr., Co-chairs

Judicial Liaison:  The committee is in the process of reminding chapters that chapters should contact their local judges and make them aware that ABOTA has a protocol in place to defend judges who are subject to unfair criticism.

- The Hon. Jill Flaskamp Halbrooks and the Hon. Wendell Mortimer, Jr., Co-chairs

Long Range Planning:  At the Long Range Planning Committee meeting in San Francisco in April, the committee agreed that institutional memory was very important to ABOTA's long-range success. It has been the experience of those serving on the Executive Committee that they sometimes end up dealing with a problem that was previously dealt with and, often solved, by a previous administration. And most importantly, those who have served as Past National Presidents have a perspective on the functioning of the organization and how its goals can best be accomplished that none of us can have without that experience. The Committee decided to prepare a short questionnaire for each National Past President to complete to give the committee feedback on where ABOTA is as an organization and where it should be going.

- Michael T. Callahan and Harry T. Widmann, Co-chairs

Membership:  The committee reviewed the efforts to contact all chapters to explain the Member category and encourage recruitment. The results reflect that most chapters that have not adopted Local Chapter Option Rule-Eligibility and may not have an adequate understanding of the category. The committee encourages all members to consider applying for an advancement in rank if they qualify.

- David E. Cherry and John R. Rodman, Co-chairs

Nominating:  The committee's next meeting will be held in Los Angeles on Aug. 1. The committee will select nominees to stand for election for the office of Vice President for the following year.

- William C. Callaham, Chair

Professionalism, Ethics and Civility:  The committee announced that the "Civility Matters" DVD qualifies for 1 hour of CLE credit in several states. The DVD is currently being used to educate first-year law school students. In addition to its use in law schools, it is a valuable tool for in-house training programs in law firms. The committee encourages ABOTA members to introduce the DVD to their law schools and law firms. Copies of the DVD are available from the National Office.

- David B. Casselman and Donald J. Winder, Co-chairs

Seventh Amendment and Jury Innovations:  The National Board approved a resolution on April 4 that both the federal and state governments have a duty to make jury trials readily available to civil litigants at government expense. The interests of justice are ill served by assessing jury costs against litigants. The committee is coordinating with the National Office to roll out a media announcement of the resolution....The National Board is in the process of evaluating recent innovations in juror participation and developing a response to this trend. The board is also evaluating the ongoing issue of access to jury trials and the potential role of simplified procedures or "short" jury trials as a means of reducing the cost, and thereby increasing accessibility to, jury trials in cases of lower value. In April, the National Office e-mailed all ABOTA members this survey. While responses were strong, if you did not receive the survey and would like to complete it, please contact the National Office at (800) 93-ABOTA (932-2682) or e-mail

- Gilbert A. Dickinson and William E. Hahn, Co-chairs

Website and Technology:  President-elect Craig Lewis discussed his vision that ABOTA have a premier web site, a "go to" website used by attorneys and the legal community and even beyond just ABOTA members.   It will be the site that all attorneys, regardless of organizational affiliation, will want to keep as their favorite.  ABOTA will be seen as the "go to" premier attorney organization.

- Patrick B. Curran and Steven C. Glickman, Co-chairs





By Jay Harris

As America celebrates the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, Jay Harris takes a look at Lincoln as a trial lawyer and compares his trial work to ABOTA's membership requirements.

Documenting Lincoln's Law Career

    Abraham Lincoln was a trial lawyer and for almost 25 years was active at trying lawsuits to juries.
    For many years, researchers have traveled to all of the courts where Lincoln practiced. The researchers have scanned every document still in existence that relates to Lincoln's law practice.
    These collected documents are not a complete record of Lincoln's law practice because all of the Federal Court records from 1855 - 1871 were lost in the Chicago Fire. Other fires or floods of county courthouses have significantly affected the geographical portrait of Lincoln's practice.
    But documents have been collected in the Lincoln Legal Papers Project. Historians and hundreds of volunteers have helped find, scan, organize and keyword some more than 96,000 documents. A four-volume set contains some of the documents.  All of the documents are now online and freely searchable at

Lincoln's Law Practice
    Abraham Lincoln was admitted to law practice on Sept. 9, 1836, and one month later he tried his first case on Oct. 8, 1836. Lincoln represented the defendant, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.
    Lincoln practiced for almost 25 years until he was elected President and left Springfield, Ill., for Washington, D.C. Three separate law partnerships included Lincoln.
    The first was with John Todd Stuart.  Stuart was an established Springfield lawyer and United States Congressman. The second partner was Steven Trigg Logan. Here, Lincoln learned rigorous legal research from an organized, spartan and self-disciplined lawyer. In both of the first and second partnerships, Lincoln was the younger junior partner. Yet in both cases, Lincoln was brought in as an equal partner, and fees were shared 50/50.
    The third and last legal partnership was with young William Herndon.  That partnership lasted seventeen years from 1844 - 1861.  Even though by this time Lincoln was established and successful, law clerk Herndon came in as an equal partner. No written agreement exists for any of Lincoln's partnerships.
    The Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices had a hole in the floor, and the cover of the hole could be lifted to listen to and watch the Federal Courtroom just below. The federal cases involved larger amounts of money.  The minimum jurisdictional amount, corrected for inflation, was $10,000 in 2007.
    We know that Lincoln was involved with at least 5,173 lawsuits.  Some were personal injury cases. For example, Lincoln defended a doctor who was being sued for malpractice. Lincoln sued railroads for injuries to his clients' person and property.
    Remember that every motion, every pleading and every brief that Lincoln filed in Court was handwritten.  He wrote in a clear readable hand.  His signature was usually just "A. Lincoln."
    Lincoln was successful financially. In 1840 the Illinois governor made $24,600 in today's dollars. Lincoln's annual income was $31,000.  At that time, the Illinois Circuit Court Judges' salary was $15,400 per year.
    Lincoln's largest fee was $110,000 in today's money. The Illinois Central Railroad was his client. Lincoln saved the Railroad a boatload of money on property taxes. Yet Lincoln had to sue his client for his fee. He did, he collected, and the panic of 1857 struck one-month later. In fact, the railroad kept hiring Lincoln in many other cases thereafter.

Lincoln's reputation as a trial lawyer
    Anecdotal evidence is strong that Lincoln met ABOTA standards for the number of civil jury trials. Keep in mind that Lincoln rode the circuit twice a year by following the judge throughout the whole judicial circuit. This added up to six months a year. At each courthouse, there would be suitors who hired Lincoln or one of the other lawyers. The jury was assembled and a number of waiting cases were tried. Then off the whole road show went to the next courthouse the next day.
    The firm of Lincoln and Herndon handled between 300 to 500 cases per year. Lincoln often handled cases for free. He would sometimes send part of a fee back, telling the client that it was too much. He would return a retainer when after investigation, he believed the case to be without merit. He settled those cases he could.
    Lincoln represented the plaintiff in 60% of his cases and the defendant in the other 40%. He also served as bar examiner, judge and legal adviser.
    Most agree that Abraham Lincoln would meet the high standards of honesty, integrity and civility required of ABOTA members. There is no instance when Lincoln lost his temper in court, hid evidence or made an argument without basis. The judges and other circuit riders, in fact, loved Lincoln's stories and anecdotes that he told each night after court was adjourned.
    Lincoln was a unique American figure. He was creative and hands-on. He is the only president with a U.S. Patent, which was granted for a device to raise a river barge that was stuck on a sand bar. Lincoln carved the exemplar model for the patent application himself. Lincoln did not drink alcohol, he was not a gourmand, eating without protest anything set before him.
    Lincoln got along with his legal opponents. Lincoln opposed Steven A. Douglas in 28 cases. They were even co-counsel in three cases.  Douglas was an Illinois Supreme Court Justice in six cases where Lincoln was a lawyer on appeal.
    Lincoln is often labeled a railroad lawyer, yet 47% of the time he opposed the railroad in lawsuits.
    In Illinois, the defendant had the right to trial by jury without regard to the amount in controversy. A jury of 12 men heard the case.
    From all accounts, Lincoln was an accomplished trial lawyer. He was recognized for his empathy and his ability to focus the jury's attention on the crux of the case.


    "Abraham Lincoln was more soulful than the rest of us and speaks to the best of us."  Mo Rocca, National Public Radio, Feb. 15, 2009


Jay Harris is a shareholder in the law firm of HARRIS · RENY · TORZEWSKI L.P.A. in Toledo, Ohio.  Jay is a past President of the ABOTA Ohio Chapter and a member of the ABOTA National Board of Directors.




American Board of Trial Advocates
Upcoming Calendar


More info: Contact the ABOTA National Office at (800) 932-2682 or go to
Calendar as of June 4, 2009. Dates and locations are subject to change.




Chapter News

On May 15, the Dallas Chapter held its Spring Reception at The Mansion on Turtle Creek.  In attendance were Dallas federal and state judges, as well as ABOTA National Officers.  John L. Holcomb, Tom Harkness, and Chapter President, Jim L. Flegle, gave brief remarks on initiatives by ABOTA and the ABOTA Foundation.


    Dallas Chapter Past Presidents: Top Row - left to right:  George E. Bowles, Carlyle H. 
    Chapman, Jr., Coyt Randal Johnston, Jim Foreman, Michael L. Parham, Lewis R.
    Sifford, Mark E. Stradley, Charla G. Aldous, and Jim L. Flegle.  Bottom Row - left to
    right:  John H. McElhaney, Frank Finn, James E. Coleman, George W. Bramblett, Jr.,
    Robert G. Vial, and Carmen S. Mitchell.




  Orange County                                      Los Angeles

   National President John L. Holcomb                     Edith R. Matthai passes the gavel
   swears in the officers of the Orange                      to 2009 Chapter President Moses
   County Bar Association.                                         Lebovits.




    SEABOTA                                      SEABOTA
     The 2009 SEABOTA Convention was held              John T. Milburn Rogers SEABOTA
     at the historic  Peabody Hotel in Memphis,           President-elect, presented Chief Justice
     Tenn., April 17-18. Rick Kraemer,                        Janice Holder with the Jurist of the
     President of Executive Presentations                   Year Award.
     (right), received the Photojournalist of
     the Year from Grady F. Tollison, Jr.,
     SEABOTA President.




Membership Report as of June 5, 2009


New Members


Elevation in Rank