First-Year Students Impress Jurists in Moot Court Competition
Kristin Marker and Catalina Rodas take Top Oralist Honors and Silviana Dumitrescu named Best Writer in Southwestern's Annual Intramural Competition
Judge Charles R. Wilson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found it hard to believe that the outstanding arguments he heard from the finalists at Southwestern's 2009 Moot Court Intramural Competition came from first-year students. "It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these first-year law students are able to assimilate complicated legal theories and then get up in front of the podium before three experienced appellate judges and be able to answer these questions as if they had been lawyers for years."
Finalists Kristin Marker and Catalina Rodas argued their cases in the Richard S. Chambers United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena on a bright April afternoon. Both had prevailed earlier that day in their semi-final rounds where Marker competed against Daniel Benji and Rodas squared off with Scott Timpe.
Complimented for being appropriately "calm and deliberate" as the appellee, Marker was named Best Oralist and Rodas took Second Place. "When my name was announced, I was shocked," Marker said. "It was a few minutes before I realized what had happened. I was thrilled that I had won... It's amazing that Southwestern provides the 1Ls with this one-of-a-kind opportunity, so I felt very fortunate to have this experience." Later, at the Awards Reception on Southwestern's campus, Silviana Dumitrescu was named First Place Writer.
Justice Louis B. Butler, Jr. of the Wisconsin Supreme Court told the advocates, "I have heard many oral arguments and the arguments that I saw here today rival some of the better ones that I've seen on the Wisconsin Supreme Court... It was tough trying to decide who won the competition... You both handled the questions very well."
Justice Petra Jimenez Maes of the New Mexico Supreme Court said it was difficult to determine the winner and that both finalists did "a good job of outlining the issues." Although she did not agree with the appellee's side in the case, she gave Marker a lot of credit for the way she handled it. "While it's not the position I would have voted for," she said to Marker, "you did something very important. You convinced the judges that you really believed in your position."
View the printed program from the
final rounds of the 2009 Competition (PDF)
In the case the advocates argued, a successful oil painter was vaccinated against the Goat Flu so she could join the Peace Corps in Thailand. But two weeks later she developed Gullain Barre Syndrome (GBS), a condition that caused her to lose the use of her hands. However, the plaintiff was not aware of the connection between the vaccine and the disease until ten years later. Without knowing which drug company distributed the dosage she received, the plaintiff asserted claims for negligence, liability for failure to warn and design defect against multiple companies. Defendants filed and were granted a motion for summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiff could not identify the responsible manufacturer and that pharmaceutical manufacturers are immune from liability for defects in the design of prescription drugs. The problem that advocates argued concerned issues of whether the court should adopt a market share liability theory that would allow the plaintiff (appellant) to recover from each manufacturer in proportion to its share of the market without proving that any particular manufacturer made the dose of the vaccine. The other issue was whether manufacturers should be immune from strict liability for defects in the design of prescription drugs such as the vaccine that injured the plaintiff. "It was a very interesting, very challenging case," Judge Wilson said. "My compliments go to Professor Turner for her efforts in putting together such an outstanding problem."
According to Professor Tracy Turner, Director of Southwestern's Legal Analysis Writing and Skills (LAWS) Program, "The final rounds represent some of the most rewarding moments for the LAWS faculty. We get to see our students who, in August, knew nothing about the law, now argue these complex issues so flawlessly before such prestigious justices," she said. "Although only two students make it to the final round, many of our alumni volunteers in the earlier rounds remarked on the high quality of advocacy by all of our Third Round participants."
The semi-final rounds were judged by: Hon. Erithe A. Smith, United States Bankruptcy Court, Central District of California; Southwestern Dean Bryant G. Garth; Hon. Paul Turner, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District; Hon. Darrell Mavis, Los Angeles Superior Court and Adjunct Professor at Southwestern; and Hon. Andrew J. Wistrich and Hon. Otis D. Wright II '80, United States District Court, Central District of California.
Quarter-Finalists Oralists included Ryan Cosgrove, Shai Phillips, Patricia Rosman and Genevieve Younce. Octo-Finalists were Thomas Duross, Esme Ganz, Sholom Goodman, Kerrigan Hennings, Sabrina Jangda, Joseph Mellis, Evan Shafferman and Antwoin Wall.
In the writing portion of the competition, in addition to Dumitrescu's top finish, Kumars Silani took Second Place, Steve Lee was Third, Anna Sarukhanyan was Fourth, Christina Worms was Fifth and Nathan Howser was Sixth. Other Finalist Writers include: Miyo Gerhardt, Christine Konczal, Jessica Labo, Crystal Lara, Olga Leier, Sharon Raminfard, Patricia Rosman, Jesse Terrell, Nicole Vongchanglor, and (Octa-Finals Oralist) Antwoin Wall.
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 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.