Fifty students took part in an annual competition that challenged participants this fall to argue the merits or mistakes of prosecutorial decisions in a fictional murder case.
By Sharon Dunmore L’17
The two-person team of Caitlin Mitchell L’17 and Christopher “Chris” Anderson L’17 earned top honors this week in Elon Law’s annual Intramural Moot Court Competition.
Twenty-five teams competed in the fall tournament, which concluded Oct. 6, 2016, as Mitchell and Anderson argued the state’s position to a three-judge panel hearing appeals in a complex fictional murder case.
Mitchell, an Elon Law Leadership Fellow, also received awards for her oral arguments in both the preliminary and final rounds of an intramural contest that is the largest to date in the nine years of competition.
Tasked with defending prosecutors’ use of a “gruesome” murder photo that could have unfairly influenced the hypothetical jury, Anderson and Mitchell cited case law and federal rules of evidence in asking the court to uphold the conviction.
They edged out the team of Brittany Hart L’17 and Amy Wert L’17, who argued that the jury was unduly influenced when trial prosecutors enlarged a photo of the “body” after police had removed a chandelier that had fallen on it during the commission of the crime – in this scenario, the murder of a man whose wife had been found guilty of planting a bomb in the kitchen oven.
Finalists argued the fictional appellate case before the Hon. James G. Exum Jr., a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court; the Hon. James L. Gale, chief special Superior Court judge for complex business cases; and the Hon. Michael L. Robinson, special Superior Court judge for complex business cases.
The finalists said afterward that the very nature of the intramural competition helped them grow as law students.
“Moot Court provides second- and third-year students the opportunity to refine our written and oral advocacy skills that we learned in our first year,” Hart said. “Public speaking has always been my biggest fear and I knew that I needed to challenge myself in that area in order to improve and better myself as a future attorney. And the skills you acquire through competing are transferable to real-life situations in the courtroom upon graduation.”
Anderson said that moot court prepares aspiring lawyers, particularly those who plan on being trial attorneys, because it gives them a chance to argue and receive instant feedback. “There are also great opportunities to work with the team coaches along the way, which only further fine-tune those fundamental skills that every oral advocate needs,” he said.
Wert offered similar observations about the value of moot court.
“It allows you to hone your oral arguing skills by going in front of a bench of esteemed judges,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge of responding to questions extemporaneously and I encourage anyone who is interested in litigation to give moot court a try.”
The evening competition was attended by classmates who themselves had advanced through the preliminary rounds of the competition. Those team included:
- Jaylyn Noble and Suzanne Patinella
- Alexandra Cranston and Janelle Wendorf
- Melissa Watkins and Mike Yoder
- Tiffany Fitzgerald and Whitney Baker
- Gabe Mirabelli and Justin Moulin
- Andreas Mosby and Maddie Turpen
Selections for membership on Elon Law’s 2016-17 Moot Court Board will be made within the week.
Senior Associate Dean Alan Woolief oversees the moot court program at Elon Law and expressed gratitude to the dozens of students, faculty, staff, and local attorneys and judges who helped make the competition a success and a great experience for the competitors.
“By having to critically analyze complex appellate issues, craft strong arguments for their client’s position and then present and defend these arguments before some of the state’s preeminent jurists, moot court competitors develop advocacy skills that will help them excel in their residencies and internships during law school and throughout their legal careers,” he said.
Woodlief also praised the Moot Court Board and Jason Pruett L’17, chair of the moot court competition. Pruett, after the competition, said the benefits of moot court are immeasurable for students.
“Personally, involvement in the moot court program has given me the opportunity to hone in on my arguing and public speaking skills while also adding a realistic pressure to my arguments that forces me to be able to ‘think on my feet,’” he said. “It is one thing to theoretically learn the arguments on paper, but it is a completely different experience to stand before an experienced and knowledgeable jurist and attempt to convince them that your viewpoint is correct.”