First-year Students Wow Judges in Annual LAWS Competitions
The Hon. Robert J. Cordy of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, one of five bench judges to preside over the final round of Southwestern's Intramural Moot Court Competition, has judged these at many different law schools. But after hearing Southwestern's oralists argue, Justice Cordy said, "I can sum up this experience in one word: wow!"
In what has become a consistent tradition of excellence, judges commended the intelligence, poise and preparedness of the first-year law students who participated in Southwestern's 2014 intramural advocacy competitions. Each year, outstanding 1L advocates impress leading jurists from local, state and federal courts with their skill and professionalism.
The culminating activity of Southwestern's unique, three-track Legal Analysis, Writing and Skills (LAWS) program enabled first-year law students to participate in and receive recognition for excellence in appellate (moot court), negotiation or trial advocacy. Prominent members of the bench and bar served as judges for the final rounds in all three tracks.
During the Intramural Competition Awards Banquet on April 12 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, where the oral advocacy and writing award winners were announced, Dean Susan Prager praised the participants. "The final round judges were so complimentary of the student-lawyers they were asked to evaluate," she said. "The added bonus was the judges' excitement about the problems the students were grappling with - a high compliment to those who constructed this year's problems. As if this were not enough, seeing the first-year students celebrating one another was truly special. All of this made Saturday evening's celebration of student achievement a Dean's dream!"
Following the mandatory rounds culminating the LAWS course, a total of 219 students out of 342 participated in the Intramural rounds: 96 for Moot Court, 73 for Negotiation and 50 for Trial Advocacy. Those students receiving special recognition excelled in oral advocacy or brief writing in one of the three competitions, and are eligible to interview this summer for membership in the Moot Court Honors Program, Negotiation Honors Program or Trial Advocacy Honors Program (TAHP).
Moot Court/Appellate Competition
SCALE® students dominated in the Moot Court competition, with SCALE advocates Gillian Ramos and Scott Adrian reaching the final round at the Ninth Circuit Appellate Court in Pasadena. Ramos won First Place Oralist, and Adrian earned the Second Place Oralist title.
Ramos, a classically trained violinist with vast stage experience, found the performance aspect of advocacy exhilarating. "With every single round that I was lucky enough to advance to, I had fun. I took in the experience, and I held nothing back," she said. "When the bench returned to give the final verdict, I was in total shock. Scott and I are both part of the wonderful SCALE program at Southwestern, and he did great! When the Chief Justice said my name as the winner, I was so happy, I couldn't even react. It is so rewarding to see all your hard work and dedication all come together at the end."
Adrian, like Ramos, had argued the same side of the case throughout most of the rounds. "Making it to the final round was amazing," he said. "I feel honored and humbled to have gone against so many great advocates. Going off brief in the final round was an experience I'll never forget."
Judges for the final bench included Hon. Louis B. Butler (ret.), Wisconsin Supreme Court; Hon. Robert J. Cordy, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; Hon. Scott M. Gordon '85, Los Angeles County Superior Court; Hon. Rives Kistler, Oregon Supreme Court; and Hon. Ann A. Scott Timmer, Arizona Supreme Court.
"The quality of advocacy at Southwestern is always great," Justice Butler told the finalists. "This was a lot of fun. Neither of your arguments was easy. You both had a difficult job."
After the winner was announced, Judge Gordon remarked, "I supervise family law in LA, and I wish the lawyers that came before me had the command of the law and the facts that you do. I thought you both did a great job and were organized and smooth."
Maria Kabayan (full-time day program) and Roy Manukyan (part-time evening program) were Semi-Finalist Oralists. Quarter-Final Oralists included Amanda Goodman (full-time day program), Edward Hinojos (full-time day program) Alexandra Hong (SCALE) and Emma Moralyan (full-time day program).
In the brief writing portion of the competition, Matthew Stearns (full-time day program) won First Place Brief. Brennan Huelse (full-time day program) took Second Place, while Roy Manukyan earned Third Place and Michelle Keshishi (full-time day program) took Fourth Place.
At the Ninth Circuit Courthouse in Pasadena this year, students argued an issue of whether a non-biological parent can be held financially accountable for a child. In the fictitious problem, a surrogate mother was seeking to hold one of the intended mothers responsible for the child. A lesbian couple hired the surrogate to carry the child of one of the partners. One partner had no biological connection to the child but signed the surrogacy contract expressing her intent to raise the child as her own. When the fetus was diagnosed with severe abnormalities, the couple invoked an abortion clause in the surrogacy contract that gave them the right to decide that the pregnancy should be terminated. The surrogate mother refused and gave birth to the child. She assumed parental obligations after the child's birth but immediately instituted a maternity action to declare the intended parents to be the child's legal parents. The biological mother did not contest the action and was declared to be the child's legal parent. Her domestic partner, however, argued that in the absence of a biological connection to the child, she should not be recognized as the child's legal parent.
To argue their clients' respective positions, students had to deal with a nebulous balancing of "policy and logic" analysis, brand new amendments to the statute that allowed three parents to be recognized in limited scenarios, and application of case law to a novel situation that had not yet been addressed in published opinions.
Professor Tracy Turner, Director of LAWS, wrote this year's problem. "As always, Southwestern's students showed preparation, analytical skills, and poise that would be the envy of many practicing attorneys," she said. "They represented our school well and made us very proud. Progressing in the competitive rounds requires an extreme level of commitment both in taking on the formidable task of arguing before seasoned practitioners, judges, and justices from around the country and in spending late night hours rehearsing over and over again. These students really showed the excellence that results from hard work."
In the Negotiation Competition, where students argued in pairs, Iman Jafarynejad and Shauneen Militello (both in the SCALE two-year JD program) won First Place Advocates, and Gabrielle Assayag and Gabriella Lamond (both full-time day program) earned Second Place. Arshavir Kouladjian (part-time day program) and Joshua Maldonado (full-time day program) finished in Third Place, and Michael Calvo and Sevan Niazi (both in the full-time day program) took Fourth Place. Aldo Jan (full-time day program) and Emily Rehm (part-time evening program) were the top two brief writers.
Semi-Finalists included: Jennifer Mascia, Christopher White and Jasmine Behroozan, Rachel Chang and Caitlin Moore, and Nicholas Kyle and Fiona Chen (all in the full-time day program).
On winning the competition, Jafarynejad said, "I feel what helped us was playing to our strengths, being authentic, genuine, and, most importantly, having fun with the whole thing. It was an amazing experience and getting the chance to meet many of my fellow 1Ls, who were all very talented negotiators who I have great respect and admiration for, was the best part."
Professor Cristina Knolton, co-advisor of the Negotiation Honors Program, said everyone in the competition performed extremely well. "The competitors in the final round were all so talented that the judges' votes were split among the four teams," she said. "The final problem required the students to understand industry specific financial terms as well as the economic underpinnings of how the separate financial aspects of the deal worked together. The level of talent demonstrated by the students in grasping the terms and advocating for their client's interests made choosing one team over another very difficult. The split decision by the judges speaks to the overall talent of the final round."
The problems they negotiated included (i) negotiation of a consignment agreement between an artist and an art gallery, (ii) negotiation of a NBA contract between a high profile professional basketball player and a NBA team, and (iii) an equipment leasing agreement between an established aircraft leasing company and a new commercial airline looking to enter the market.
Judges for the final round of the Negotiation Competition included: Paul Bent '78, Chief Executive Officer & General Counsel, GoodSmith & Co.; Nyree Gray '99, Associate Dean/Dean of Students and Diversity Affairs and Co-Advisor of Negotiation Honors Program; and Rajendra Sardesai '93, Counsel at Almex USA Inc. and Ayuron Implants Ltd.
Trial Advocacy Competition
In the Trial Advocacy Competition, Stanley Park (part-time evening program) won Best Advocate and Celline Fhima (full-time day program) earned Second Place Advocate. The Trial Advocacy Semifinalists were Katherine Melik-Stepanyan and Andres Noches Lugo (both in the full-time day program). Quarterfinalists included Jeck Dizon (part-time evening program), Roza Egiazarian (full-time day program), Nicole Ortiz (full-time day program) and Raena Walker (part-time evening program). Best Brief Writer awards went to Fhima and Melik-Stepanyan.
Professors Joseph Esposito and Bill Seki serve as Co-Chairs of Southwestern's TAHP program. "The 2014 TAHP Tryouts saw some of the best across the board advocacy in the history of TAHP tryouts," Professor Esposito said. "The final eight competitors worked tirelessly to present their cases off notes, and with passion and professionalism. It was truly a marvel to watch them in action. The championship was spectacular, pitting Stanley Park as the prosecution against Celline Fihma on the defense. The two were masterful as they weaved the facts effortlessly into their respective theories. Those in attendance were truly on pins and needles as the two battled it out in open court."
The championship round was presided over by an illustrious three judge panel consisting of Hon. Beverly Reid-O'Connell, Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Hon. Thomas Willhite, Justice of the California Court of Appeal, and Hon. David Wesley '72, Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Competitors argued a fictitious scenario arising from the facts of the case the 1Ls wrote about for their LAWS brief. In a criminal spinoff of the LAWS problem, the woman who won her child support lawsuit disappeared. The prosecution charged Lucy Kramer (respondent in the LAWS problem) with the revenge-murder of Regina Parham even though Regina's body was never found. Although no definitive piece of evidence proved Regina's murder, the circumstantial evidence pointed the finger of guilt directly at Lucy Kramer.