First-Year Southwestern Students Impress Prominent Jurists in Moot Court
Hon. Elizabeth B. Lacy, Senior Justice for the Supreme Court of Virginia said there's a good reason that five judges listened to final arguments in Southwestern Law School's Moot Court Intramural Competition this year. "We have to avoid a tie. And it was so close that it came down to a split decision."
Ashley Johnson and Camille Vasquez, first-year advocates with different, yet equally effective styles, wowed the panel of State Supreme Court Justices and a Court of Appeals Judge at the Richard S. Chambers United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena on a hot April afternoon. Both had triumphed earlier that day in their semi-final rounds where Johnson competed against Michael Azat and Vasquez squared off with Jenny-Anne Sinson.
In the end, Johnson was named Best Oralist and Vasquez took second. Later, at the Awards Reception on Southwestern's campus, Wendy Tseng was named First Place Writer. "I don't know how I feel yet. It hasn't sunk in," said Johnson, who turned from her respondent's chair to give her husband Satwan Johnson an excited grin when her name was announced. Vasquez said, "I'm proud of myself and relieved that it's over."
Judge Charles R. Wilson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit told Johnson and Vasquez, "It's really hard for me to believe that you are 1Ls. What I heard today is better than some of the advocacy I see on the 11th Circuit."
Justice Louis B. Butler, Jr. of the Wisconsin Supreme Court said, "This was so close that when we went back to decide the winner nobody wanted to vote." Justice Lacy, who has judged the final round on and off for the last 12 years, praised the law school and Moot Court Honors Program, saying, "You have consistently run a first-class program here." Justice Steven H. Levinson of the Supreme Court of Hawaii called the problem the advocates had to argue a "real work of art. It left very little room for us to play games." Justice Levinson also praised the advocates. "Out of about 280 oralists, you two are the last ones standing. This is my 10th year judging here and this was among the best final rounds I've seen." Justice Rives Kistler of the Supreme Court of Oregon said, "Religious clauses are among the hardest in the constitution. I thought you both did very well."
Southwestern Professor Tracy Turner, who is serving in her first year as Director of the Legal Analysis Writing and Skills (LAWS) program, wrote the problem with contributions from fellow LAWS Professors Tara Walters and Karin Graver. In the scenario, a 17-year-old girl who lived with her family in a self-governed fictitious community of the (also fictitious) American Communities for Truth and Justice (ACTJ) religion, died after being counseled by a member of the Council of Elders who believed in self harm as a proper form of atonement, despite the ACTJ's stance against it. The ACTJ was appealing a summary judgment motion it filed and had been denied by the trial court. ACTJ also wanted to overturn a motion that would allow disclosure of a conversation that would violate clergy-parishioner privilege.
"I'm very proud of our students," Professor Turner said. "They did an incredible job."
The semi-final rounds were judged by: Justice J. Gary Hastings '72 (Ret.), Justice Paul Turner, and Justice Thomas L. Willhite, Jr., of the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District; Judge George P. Schiavelli, Judge Andrew J. Wistrich, and Judge Otis D. Wright II, '80, of the United States District Court, Central District of California; and Judge Erithe A. Smith, United States Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California.
Quarter-Finalists Oralists included: Carmen Hernandez-Miranda, Matthew Mong, Ali Nosrat, and Jennifer Yuen. Octa-Finalist Oralists were: Armine Bazikyan, Celine Chebil, Sean Daley, Colleen Kelley, Nitasha Khanna (2nd Place writer), Louisa Markarian, Thomas Miletic, and Wendy Tseng (1st place writer). Whitney Ching was First Place Oralist for rounds 1 through 3.
In addition to Tseng's top finish in the writing portion of the competition, Nitasha Khanna took Second Place, Daniel Horlick was third, Eric Anthony took fourth, Shahrooz Zaghi was fifth, and Danielle Derose was sixth. Other Finalist Writers were Allison Cova, Jesse Goff, Mitchell Kim, Janessa McCune, Sana Merchant, Ali Nosrat, Justin Rogal, Lila Seif, Jessica Wright, and Jennifer Yuen.
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 April 5 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 and the Legal Analysis, Writing and Skills professors nominated 16 finalists, from which the best writing award winners were chosen.