Fifth in the Nation: UCF’s Moot Court Team Takes the Gavel

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John Tuley, Vanessa Brice, attorney at Colling, Gilbert, Wright & Carter; LeRoy Pernell, Interim Dean of FAMU-College of Law, Fredrick Lauten, Chief Judge, Ninth Judicial Circuit, and Julienne Miranda

Six months ago, undergraduate students at UCF and across the country were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest fictitious appellate court case from the American Moot Court Association (AMCA).

Each fall, more than 700 “mooties,” as moot court students refer to themselves, gird themselves for battles against other students in bracketed competitions that take place during the fall, and culminate in the crowning of a national champion in January.

According to AMCA, “Moot court is a method of teaching law and legal skills that requires students to analyze and argue both sides of a hypothetical legal issue using procedures modeled after those employed in state and federal appellate courts.”

In May, mooties learned of William DeNolf, who was appealing the constitutionality of his conviction for murder and subsequent sentencing by the State of Olympus on two separate legal issues.

The DeNolf case incorporated actual case law to support its arguments, and students who wished to compete received the 20-page mock opinion as well as more than 20 case citations. Students put in many hours of reading, memorization, and arguing and critiquing each other before they face the judges – volunteer attorneys who, in some cases, are actual judges.

It is important to note that moot court is voluntary and that no extra credit points are given. “The students actually enjoy the process,” said Jason Fiesta, lecturer for legal studies and coach of the moot court team.

“No one does moot court because they have to,” Fiesta added. “And although it’s hard to generalize, students who are drawn to this type of activity have a few things in common: they have NO fear of public speaking, are quick on their feet and detail-oriented, and are avid readers.”

At the recent South Atlantic Regional Moot Court Tournament, hosted by UCF Legal Studies, two UCF teams placed in the top four out of 38: Michael McWaters and Danielle Hoyer, and John Tuley and Julienne Miranda. Tuley and Miranda received second place honors. These four students will likely advance to the AMCA National Tournament in January at the University of North Texas-Dallas College of Law. The prestigious competition accepts only the top 80 teams, Fiesta said.

The tournament was held at FAMU’s College of Law, just steps from the future site of UCF Downtown.  Each round mimicked Supreme Court arguments, and the final mock arguments were held in the college’s ceremonial courtroom in front of three judges: Fredrick Lauten, Chief Judge,  Ninth Judicial Circuit; LeRoy Pernell, Interim Dean of FAMU-College of Law and Vanessa Brice, attorney at Colling, Gilbert, Wright & Carter.

“Competing in a courtroom setting is both intimidating and exhilarating,” Miranda said. “It makes the whole competition seem more ‘real,’ as if I’m an actual attorney arguing in front of the Supreme Court. In a way, I think it gives me a little more confidence when I’m arguing.”

In their final round, Tuley and Miranda competed against a team from Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia. The school is a historically formidable opponent: over the past five years, teams from the school have taken national first place honors four times; the fifth time they placed second.

The judges – who treat the students as though they are practicing attorneys –  were impressed with Tuley and Miranda, and following their arguments, commented that Miranda had “great composure and presence,” while Tuley’s “knowledge of case law was impressive.”

The Patrick Henry Sentinels should be guarding against a Knight victory. UCF’s moot court team comprises a diverse group of students majoring not only in legal studies, but also political science, sociology, English, computer science, anthropology and mathematics. Currently ranked fifth in the nation, the other UCF mooties who competed recently are Noel Berrios and Tiffany Magoutas, Gabrielle D’Esposito and Patrick Isidore, Steven Hibbe and Lexie Dantes, Cristina Del Rosso and Aleeza Shah, and Lorraine Yerger and Brandt Dietry.

Special thanks to Katie Connolly, Shawn Richichi, Jordan Phillips and Professor Marc Consalo from UCF; and Mildred Graham and Claudine Beale from the FAMU College of Law for organizing, coordinating and facilitating the tournament. For more information about UCF’s Moot Court, please contact Jason Fiesta.

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