Richardo I. Kilpatrick
Copyright © May 1, 2002, American Bankruptcy Institute.
s I end my term, especially during this 20th anniversary year, it's appropriate to
recall the events of our founding and milestones along the way to becoming the world's
preeminent bankruptcy organization. I called upon Harry D. Dixon Jr., one of the
ABI founders, who provided his insights in preparing this column.
ABI: The First Twenty Years
(1982-1987) In February 1982, Harry incorporated under Nebraska law a
new organization to be called the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). He believed
that it would become the premier bankruptcy organization in the United States and provide
impartial testimony and assistance to Congress. Harry became the chairman and CEO; he
would serve in that capacity for the next 15 years.
In January 1983, Harry, Robert E. Feidler and Sen. Dennis DeConcini
organized an event to discuss the problem of the Marathon decision. Bankruptcy
practitioners and judges attended the event at the invitation of Sen. DeConcini.
Televised by C-Span, it was a great success and brought ABI to the attention of
Congress and the bankruptcy bar.
In November 1983, ABI sponsored its first formal CLE program, a discussion
of the interaction between chapter 11 and labor agreements. A newsletter, edited
by Robin E. Phelan and aided by a column on recent cases by Deborah D.
Williamson, continued to grow. The first President, Ed Creel, appointed five
standing committees. On June 5-6, 1986, ABI held its first annual meeting
in Washington, D.C.
(1987-1992) Richard A. Gitlin, who had been active in the ABA
Business Bankruptcy Committee, became president in 1987. As president, Dick
redesigned the committee system for ABI. It was a great success and allowed many
more members to participate.
In 1990, Judge William L. Norton became president. His term was noted for
the emergence of educational programs, many organized by Robert M. Fishman. During
Judge Norton's term, the Endowment Fund was created with Harry, Bill and Ed Creel
each contributing $25,000 to get the fund off the ground. The fund to this day
is instrumental in providing funds for research grants and other projects.
About this same time, Harry developed two other ideas under the ABI banner:
the American College of Bankruptcy and the Bankruptcy Board of Certification. Dick
Gitlin was the first chairman of the College, with Harry as president. Keith J.
Shapiro, who was the first chairman of the Bankruptcy Board of Certification, and
Prof. G. Ray Warner were indispensable in making the certification program a success.
(1992-1997) Bob Feidler became president in 1992. Bob, who was the
legislative counsel of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, helped ABI
obtain the bankruptcy filing statistics that put ABI on the map with the news
media. The ABI Law Review and Moot Court competitions were created, thanks in
large part to the efforts of Prof. Robert M. Zinman. During this time, Deborah
Williamson succeeded Charles M. Tatelbaum in the responsibility for the newsletter,
now expanded and renamed the ABI Journal. With Bob Fishman as Vice President for
Education, and with help from Keith Shapiro, Judge James A. Goodman, Paul B.
Geilich and others, the educational programs grew in prominence, drawing large numbers
of registrants to hear well-known panelists from around the country.
Robin Phelan followed Bob Feidler as president. He encouraged the further
development of the committee system and, with his distinctive style and "hats,"
participated frequently as a speaker. Bob Zinman became president in 1996, bringing
his scholarly demeanor, credentials and presence to the office. In 1996, Harry
proposed bylaw revisions that would limit the president's term to one year with
enhanced responsibilities and would make the office of chairman a more traditional
executive policy role. Harry resigned as president of the College in May 1996
and as chairman of ABI in June.
(1997-Present) During the last five years, ABI has continued to grow and
expand under the presidencies of Bob Fishman, Deborah Williamson, Ford Elsaesser
and Keith Shapiro, each of whom brought great energy and distinctive talents to the
position. ABI expanded its publications and research activities. Membership passed the
8,000 mark. Truly, Harry's 1982 vision has been surpassed.
I appreciate the opportunity to serve as president of ABI and want to
particularly thank my mentors: Judge Ralph H. Kelley, Deborah Williamson, Ford
Elsaesser, Bob Fishman and, last but not least, ABI Executive Director Sam
Gerdano. Thanks to all of you and thank you, ABI.