"Best First-Year Moot Court Program in the Nation"
Michelle Raji and Heshanthi Rohanath take top Oralist Honors and Shara Davenport Named Best Writer
Hon. Steven Levinson, Associate Justice for the Supreme Court of Hawaii, commented that Southwestern has, "by far, the best first-year Moot Court program in the nation."
His remark came at the conclusion of the law school's 2007 Intramural Moot Court Competition. Finalists Michelle Raji and Heshanthi Rohanath took turns arguing their cases before the final bench of four jurists, answering their rapid-fire questions. Earlier, both advocates had spent the April afternoon at the Richard S. Chambers United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena triumphing in their respective semi-final rounds.
During the final oral arguments, the clock ran out for Raji, a representative for the fictitious state of Westmoreland, but the bench wanted to keep it going. "I know we're over time," Justice Levinson said. "But we're having fun." Rohanath was given another moment to reiterate her arguments as well. All four members of the final bench made it clear that both advocates did an outstanding job of arguing their cases and the decision was incredibly close.
Justice Louis B. Butler, Jr. of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin said that Raji and Rohanath's arguments were "better than many we hear at the State Supreme Court."
This was the first time that Judge Charles R. Wilson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit participated in judging a Southwestern Moot Court Competition. And he told the competitors, "I am extremely impressed with your advocacy. You're both going to be outstanding lawyers." Justice Rives Kistler, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Oregon, acknowledged Justice Levinson's tough questions pit policy against older legislation. "I thought both of you did a wonderful job," Justice Kistler said.
Dean Bryant Garth concurred. "Southwestern's faculty is really pleased with the effort that all of our moot court participants put forth."
Andrew Owen and Matthew Weiner were Semi-Finalist Oralists. The semi-final bench included: Justices Candace D. Cooper, Paul Turner and Thomas L. Willhite, Jr of the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District; Judges George P. Shiavelli and Andrew J. Wistrich, U.S. District Court, Central District of California; and Judge Erithe A. Smith, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California.
Quarter-Finalist Oralists included Chelsea Blatt, Leah Cohen-Mays, Annette Guzman (who placed first in the preliminary rounds and took Seventh Place writer), and Melissa Price. Octa-Finalist Oralists were Mark Abell, Sara Dresser, Robert Glassman, Amalia Goldvaser, Chad Haes, Michael Lavalle, Gevork Mkhsyan, and Erika Shao.
In the writing portion of the competition, in addition to Davenport's top finish, Carlos Reyes earned Second Place, Michael Lavalle was Third, Hillary Levun took Fourth, Anne Cheung was Fifth, Allison Berkley was Sixth, Guzman and Elmira Danelyan in Eighth. Other finalist writers were Sheryl Bailey, Mieke Berlin, Leah Cohen-Mays, Chad Haes, John Hynes, Fritzgerald Javellana, Rebecca Reyes, and Michelle Zamanzadeh.
The Moot Court Intramural Competition gives first-year students the opportunity to develop appellate brief writing and oral advocacy skills. A problem is made available to students in January and this year, approximately 300 students argued in preliminary rounds on campus in March. The optional third round was held March 31 at the Los Angeles County Superior Court, from which the top 16 students were chosen and continued to compete in single elimination rounds. While students pair into teams for the preliminary rounds, they are on their own for the Octa, Quarter, Semi and Final rounds and may be asked to argue as the appellant or appellee. Students submitted their appellate brief by March 19, and the Legal Analysis, Writing and Skills professors nominated 16 finalists, from which the best writing award winners were chosen.
This year Professors Christine Chorba, Alexandra D'Italia, Anahid Gharakhanian, Karin Graver, Tracy Turner, and Dennis Yokoyama wrote the problem, which focused on a surrogate mother allowing a gay couple to adopt the child she bore. One of men, the sperm donor/biological father, was her boss who gave her financial incentive. Students had to consider two issues: whether the surrogate's consent contract to allow an adoption is valid in Westmoreland and whether Westmoreland's adoption statutes prohibit the non biological father from adopting the baby because the natural father (his life partner) had not relinquished his parental rights.
Professor Yokoyama, Director of Legal Research and Writing, who judged some of the preliminary rounds said, "Seeing these advocates deftly handle the complex factual and legal aspects of the problem made me proud to be a part of the Southwestern community. Based on the fine performances of all the rounds I saw, I am pleased that Southwestern's great tradition of exciting elimination rounds not only continues but flourishes."