I had the pleasure of once again acting as a moot court judge for the CSU Chico Moot Court competition. This is an event put on every year by Professor (and lawyer extraordinaire) Dane Cameron.
I have been acting as a moot court judge at Chico State for many years (more than 15?), and it is always a treat to give back in this small way.
Once again I was struck by the quality of the program and the youthful exuberance of the participants.
People in the legal arena have been taking note of the superb job Professor Cameron has been doing in preparing his students for the moot court competition (and overall just providing an excellent education for these young adults).
CSU Chico President Gayle Hutchinson is very smart and has recognized what an excellent program Mr. Cameron has put forth. President Hutchinson provided professor Cameron with some resources to equip one of the classrooms with video and audio recording devices, judges' podiums, and other items for practice and to lend some authenticity to the moot court proceedings.
Professor Cameron has an in-depth knowledge of the Constitution and always picks a cutting edge Constitutional law subject for the moot court competition. It is generally a subject that is currently trending and has national importance.
Subjects in the past have included Gay Marriage or other important topics trending at the time and making it's way to the US Supreme Court. The topic this year was abortion. Roe v. Wade was a historic case that allowed an abortion before the fetus became viable (The language used in the case); however a slew of cases since that time have subtly changed or limited Roe, and the issues contained in the cases have profound Constitutional and societal impact (Quintessential moot court issues).
The course material consists of real cases and an imaginary jurisdiction (The State of Liberty) for these cases to be heard.
The moot court competition works just like a real Appellate Court or Supreme Court hearing(this means that the case went to trial and one side won. The losing side was not happy and filed an appeal to a higher court. The highest court in the land is the US Supreme Court). There is a panel of judges (in this moot court that means 2-3 actual attorneys' or Superior Court Judges) that hear the case.
The students are paired up in teams of 2. They present argument for either the appellant or respondent (appellant was the loser in the lower court who requested an appeal, and the respondent is the party that won in the lower court).
The students are given a strict time schedule (just like in a real appeals court).
The students must advocate (argue) their position. They must be able to cite relevant legal authority, explain the legal standards at play, and apply the legal authority to the facts of the particular case.
Even more difficult, the judges are free to (and usually do) interrupt the students as the students are advocating to ask questions (the Socratic method). If a student is prepared, these interrupting questions are a chance to shine and earn a high score; if the student is ill prepared or really nervous, these interruptions can be very difficult to deal with.
I had the pleasure of acting as an associate justice with Professor Cameron himself acting as the Presiding Judge. While the students presented their arguments, both Professor Cameron and myself would interrupt to ask a question.
My questions are generally very rudimentary (especially if I am judging early in the competition, as later in the week the students who have won on night one and moved on will be more and more prepared as the week goes on, and can answer more difficult questions). I might ask a student to explain what the legal standard at play is (e.g. is this a strict scrutiny issue or rational basis?)?
Professor Cameron also goes easy on the students on the first night, but his idea of easy is about the equivalent of what a law student or real lawyer would be expected to know if they were arguing in front of an appeals court. Professor Cameron's knowledge of Constitutional Law is top notch, and his knowledge of the facts of the case very in-depth.
While the questions were hard, they were fair. The students did a remarkable job providing accurate and insightful answers. Professor Cameron had clearly prepared his students well, and the students (to their credit) had obviously put in the time to prepare, because this is not a subject matter that can be winged, no matter how well one thinks on their feet.
Professor Cameron's moot court program is top notch. It has produced many lawyers, and is giving students a first tier education.
This was a great opportunity for the students, and I was happy to lend my time to help. The funny thing is though, is that however much the students benefitted from the competition, I benefitted as well. Seeing the job the students did, and the passion in which they argued their positions, seemed to reinvigorate me. It reminded me why I got into the law in the first place - to help people and to be a force for good.