YSU students Zachary White and Jacob Schriner-Briggs placed first and third, respectively, in the National Moot Court finals in Virginia Beach, Va., in January. Around 600 students from across the country competed in regional competitions in the fall, whittling the field down to roughly 170 finalists from schools as disparate as Patrick Henry College and the Air Force Academy.
White, a senior majoring in Political Science, plans to go to law school after graduating this May. A Berlin Center native, White hasn’t yet decided on where to go, but after winning first place as an individual orator and placing in the top 32 with his teammate, Josh Prest, his opportunities have suddenly widened.
Schriner-Briggs, a freshman at YSU and Liberty High School graduate, placed third in the individual oratory category, arguing for both for and against the policy. He participated in the event as part of his three-credit Moot Court class. “We had three hours of class a week and then trips downtown were separate. We were responsible for reading a lot of Supreme Court decisions outside of class, which took some time,” he said.
Moot Court is not like typical TV-drama court cases. Rather than a jury trial where facts are decided and there is a winner and a loser, Moot Court is based on an appellate court, where the attorney advocates for the client. There is no jury and no dispute of facts; rather, the attorney argues as a matter of law, either that the law was misapplied, or that the judge made an error in applying the law.
With just the attorney and judges, the object is to tell them why the wrong decision was made. “In jury cases, you try to connect with the jury, but with an appellate, you have to be reserved; there are a few moments when you can connect with judge,” said White. “Because we’re from this area, we’re pretty good at conveying our thoughts in a conversational tone, whereas some of the people we competed against were really proper, and sometimes that doesn’t suit you in this sort of competition. I think that’s why we did as well as we did.”
The cases this year revolved around a fictional university which created an affirmative action policy favoring males over females, a 14th Amendment argument. In response, a group of females formed a group opposed to the university policy, and their group excluded males, which is a First Amendment issue. Each team of two students argued both sides of each of the two cases; for or against the affirmative action policy, and for or against the group denying male admittance.
The teams practiced in the Seventh District Court of Appeals downtown, in front of Judge Donofrio, Ron Slipski, their coach, and attorneys he brought in to help. Teams and individuals were judged on their presentation abilities and knowledge of case law.
“It’s been really instrumental in law school applications because Moot Court is a really big thing at law schools,” said White. “I applied to all of the schools before the competition, and then after I won the national championship I e-mailed some of them back, and I heard back from schools after I’d sent that e-mail within days. It’s helping my application stand out.”