If It’s October, It Must Be Moot Court Time

Juvenile death penalty (Roper v. Simmons), same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges), campaign finance (McCutcheon v. FEC) and Obamacare (NFIB v. Seblius): These are but a few of the challenging, topical and thought-provoking United States Supreme Court cases that student attorneys (and their adult counterparts sitting as three-judge courts) have explored over the last 12 years of Moot Court Competition.

And this year’s case? In Utah v. Strieff, a police officer illegally stopped Mr. Strieff and asked to see his ID. After running Strieff’s name through the computer system, the officer discovered an outstanding arrest warrant for an unpaid parking ticket. In the search incident to the arrest, the officer found drugs in Mr. Strieff’s pocket. The Court ruled 5 to 3 that while the stop was illegal, the pre-existing arrest warrant attenuated the taint. But Justice Sotomayor issued a very stinging, very personal dissent, pointing out the societal implications of the ruling, especially for people of color. As you can see, this year’s Moot Court Competition topic was as engaging and provocative as any that preceded it.

So, you might be asking, what is Moot Court anyway? For the past 12 years, the Center for Economic and Civic Education (CESQD.org), a local nonprofit corporation founded and run by Carla Garrett, created the materials and ran the competition, in conjunction with CCCBA. Each year on a Saturday in October, 60 to 70 high school students, primarily from Contra Costa County, their coaches and parents, and a couple of dozen attorneys and judges come out to the A.F. Bray Courthouse, where teams of one to two students argue the Petitioner side in one round and the Respondent in another while being peppered with questions from the bench. A very good time was had by all!

Moot Court is proof that exploring complicated issues can also be a great deal of fun for everyone involved.  But after 12 years of doing something that she loves and is passionate about, Carla Garrett, the Moot Court founder, is hanging up her robes, and she’d like to “pass the torch” so this valuable event can continue. She hopes that the enthusiasm and sense of accomplishment expressed by participants over the years will inspire new leadership for the event so that its many benefits to students and the community at large can continue. But don’t take our word for it; see what participants have to say ….

“The Moot Court competition was such fun to judge this year.  The case materials were excellent, and gave the students a lot to grapple with. They were very engaged, did a terrific job with some difficult material and demonstrated grace under pressure. The program is a wonderful chance for kids to get immersed in legal concepts and develop presentation skills.”

Honorable Leslie Landau
Judge, Contra Costa Superior Court

“For many years I have participated in the Mock Moot program as a scorer. The youth in our county are so fortunate to have someone like Carla Young Garrett who plans and organizes the event each year. The students take it so seriously and do so well. I tell them at the end that they should look me up after law school.”

Phil Andersen
President-Elect CCCBA

“I thought that the majority of students were very articulate in their arguments and prepared. They dressed professionally, spoke slowly and listened to their opponent’s argument. A few students even took an additional step in becoming familiar with the local rules of court, which I found to be quite impressive. I hope that they apply for internships at our office. It was a great experience and I was very happy to be a part of it.”

Lovana Henry
DDA, Contra Costa County

“I found it a real pleasure to judge the participants this year (instead of coaching as I usually do). The students had very interesting points of view and passionate arguments.”

Ellen Rosenbluth
Attorney and Mock Trial Coach

“Our first Moot Court Competition was a great experience for my students and me. I wish we had entered the competition in years past. Everything was well organized, and the students had fun. I was glad to see a wide variety of schools and skills represented. I hope the competition continues on next year. Richmond High School will definitely be there.”

Allen Mooney, Teacher Coach
Richmond High School

“The 2016 Moot Court Competition was my first year attending. Preparation for it was fun and in a way stressful, but worth it. Going to competitions was nerve racking, especially since there were going to be three judges asking questions and not just one like in Mock Trial. I see this as a privilege especially because I used to think I wanted to be a criminal attorney due to Mock Trial, but last summer I realized I wanted to do hearings or appeals. Moot Court has given me a taste of what that feels like and I enjoyed it. I like to get straight to a point to be able to challenge myself, so when I do the pretrial argument during Mock Trial, I will be better at it.”

Rosario Lopez, Junior
Richmond High School

“I can honestly say that participating in the Moot Court competition has made my last year here a lot better. When my law teacher, Mr. Mooney, suggested that I should participate in it, I was sort of hesitant. I imagined that it would be too hard and I would not feel comfortable doing it. He then explained to me that Richmond High was the only school in the WCCUSD (West Contra Costa Unified School District) that would be participating in the competition. I figured it would be pretty cool to, in a way, represent the WCCUSD and especially my school. With the help of my coaches and my teacher, I completed my statement and I was ready to go to the competition.

From participating in the Moot Court competition I gained the ability to present myself in front of people. Public speaking is something I have never really liked to do, but being able to speak in front of the judges really helped. I would encourage other people to participate in the program, and I’d definitely do it again if I could.”

Jennifer Chavez, Senior
Richmond High School

Author’s Note: While most of the students participating in the Moot Court Competition get actual coaching for the event, Larry Freeman, a government teacher at Acalanes High School, uses the Moot Court materials as part of his normal in-class curriculum, and then encourages his students to participate in the competition. Below are some comments from him and his students.

“The experience of Moot Court was unique and out of my comfort zone, but as an option for class credit, I decided to try it. It was somewhat intimidating being thrown in without much preparation, but overall the point for my team was to learn what it is truly like in court, not to win. It was something very new to me, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but once we started to debate and answer questions, I got into it and forgot about the people watching. It is a perfect activity for one to try if they think they might want to work in a courtroom one day, or for someone who simply wants to try something new. Overall it was a stretching yet memorable experience that should definitely be continued.”

Laura Connolly
Senior, Acalanes High School

“Moot Court was one of the most enlightening and enriching experiences in my entire life. Although I felt extremely out-competed, I learned the basics of an appeals court and how to speak as an attorney, a possible career for myself in the future. I very much appreciate all of the hard work it takes to put this event together, and I would highly recommend it to anyone. This event helped me get out of my comfort zone and allowed me to experience real world law.”

Nixson Murgia
Senior, Acalanes High School

“I thought that Moot Court was a very cool experience. I had never done anything like it before. It was interesting to see how things in a courtroom work. I was also very impressed with all of the students that I went up against and how well-prepared and well-spoken they were.”

Kaitlin Clever
Senior, Acalanes High School

“I thought that Moot Court was a very cool experience. I have never gotten the opportunity to stand in a courtroom like that and discuss my arguments like a real life case. It was something that I’m glad I convinced myself to do and hope that you are able to offer it to students again.”

Chloe McCullough
Senior, Acalanes High School

“I had a memorable experience and learned a lot. I enjoyed studying the case and laws to defend my position and experience presenting our case before judges. I had to think hard and recall knowledge when they asked me questions regarding the case. This is an experience that I will not forget. I appreciate everyone who volunteered to help make this learning experience possible. I hope that this program continues so students in the future may have the same wonderful experience that I did.”

Shanel Kashef
Senior, Acalanes High School

“Members of the Bar who gave of their time to Moot Court gave a gift to so many students, a gift that can be a lifetime memory, even help students build pathways into so many careers. While the Moot Court Competition may serve the AP and Mock Trial students, it also lets those who just want to show up and play the game to do something very special that they may never get a chance to do again. It gives inspiration and confidence-building to those kids who are not necessarily the upper echelon. And frankly, those are the students who need and benefit more from the program. Now a new group of volunteers has a great opportunity to contribute what is needed to make it happen again. Maybe it is a kind of giving back that will be fulfilling in a different way than winning a case, contract, settlement or negotiation.”

Larry Freeman
Acalanes Government/Journalism Teach

A final note: If you liked Moot Court or just what to have some fun in February, the Contra Costa County Office of Education runs the local Mock Trial program. Here’s the link: http://www.cccoe.k12.ca.us/supe/events/tvolunteers.htm


Carla Young Garrett is the President, Center for Economic and Civic Education.

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