On December 5th, Brooklyn Tech’s Moot Court team celebrated after winning first place in the New York Mentor Moot Court competition at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse. Fordham Law School and the Justice Resource Center, which was developed during the 1980s to promote law and civic education in schools, sponsor the competition. This year, more than forty teams from all over the city participated.
The Moot Court competition simulates an appellate court, where cases are brought in for review after an appeal is made. An appeal is usually made if any controversies arise regarding a judge’s decision in a lower court.
Just like in an actual appellate court, students in the competition are given a limited amount of time, ten minutes in this case, to present their argument to a panel of judges.
Seems easy? There’s just one catch: students can be interrupted at any time by judges who ask questions meant to throw students off track. Students must answer the questions to the best of their ability and then quickly get back to their argument.
The team of six included Mary Cao ’14, Pavel Kushernov ’14, Andrei Moraru ’14, Muhammad Mustafa ’15, Gianni Wong ’16, and Edward Bello ’17. They tackled this year’s case dealing with a very relevant topic, stop and frisk.
During the competition, the team argued the constitutionality of both the stop and the frisk of a young woman. During the semifinal round, Cao and Kushernov argued on the behalf of the police. In the finals against the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Moraru and Mustafa represented the person who was frisked.
Behind the win was a great deal of preparation on the team’s part. William Kahn, a Social Studies teacher, has been coaching the Tech Moot Court team since 2000. The team came in 5th place during its first year, and it has been quite successful since then, taking first place three times. Additionally, lawyers at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, a law firm where the team practices every Sunday, mentored the students.
According to Kahn, a major part of the preparation was “just getting [the team] used to standing with a barrage of questions.” It is common to be nervous when presenting in front of an audience, so imagine the added pressure that comes with being interrupted mid-sentence. During practice, students presented their arguments to Kahn and the lawyers and were questioned thoroughly the whole time.
“The way we got grilled in practice was worse than anything we faced in the actual competition, apart from the finals,” says Mustafa.
Prior to presenting an argument, a challenging aspect of the preparation was the research.
“The most [difficult] part was really just reading through the hundred of pages of case briefs. After the essential heavy reading, everything was more relaxing,” says Cao.
All of this hard work clearly paid off for the team. However, in addition to the preparation, Kahn attributes the recent win to “a mix of talent and each student was paired with a lawyer.”
During the competition, students learned more than just the case material. They learned new skills and more about themselves. From this experience, Mustafa has gained “a lot more confidence and skill in the art of public speaking.” Regarding such skills, Moraru says, “you can use [them] anywhere ranging from interviews to speaking to teachers to arguing with your parents.”
So what’s next for these city champions? Cao, Kushernov, Moraru, and Mustafa, who led the team to its victory during the last rounds of the competition, will be participating in another competition, the New York State High School Mock Trial Tournament. In this tournament, they will be working on a criminal case concerned with fracking.