February 21, 2006

Law Students Compete in Moot Court

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Last Saturday, Amy Phillips law ’07 and Martin Roth law ’07 stood in front of the MacDonald Moot Court Room in Myron Taylor Hall. As three federal judges walked in, the room underwent an immediate change; before gently abuzz, it now lay completely silent.

In their eyes, the room had transformed; no longer second-year law students at Cornell University, the pair stood before the room as seasoned attorneys testifying in front of the Supreme Court.

The two students were participating in the final round of the 2006 Winter Cup Cornell Moot Board Competition in which students argue a case based on one currently before the Supreme Court. The annual competition is one of three internal contests put on by the Cornell Law School Moot Court Board, a student-run organization.

During the final round on Saturday, the finalists presented their arguments to three actual federal judges, who played the role of Supreme Court justices, peppering the contestants with difficult questions. The student finalists were expected to respond quickly, intelligently and confidently.

The hour, described by Roth as “pretty nerve-racking” and by Phillips as “incredibly scary,” was filled with tension. It was a tension that stayed resonant on Saturday from the moment the judges walked in to the moment they announced Roth the winner of the competition.

The Moot Court invited three federal judges with “strong connections to the Cornell Law School” to judge in the final round of the competition. “Strong connections,” as defined by Joe Storch ’06, chancellor of the Moot Court, imply that the judge either attended Cornell Law School or has hired its students to clerk.

The three judges presiding over this year’s trial were: Chief Judge James Gray Carr, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Phillip S. Figa law ’76, District Judge, U.S. Court for the District of Colorado, and District Judge Gary L. Sharpe law ’74, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

All three judges seemed proud and excited to participate in the event. Their enjoyment was visible throughout the trial, as they sat on the bench with an ease that visibly contrasted the tension-filled room.

The tension that marked the room on Saturday was noticeably missing yesterday, when many in the room reconvened under very different circumstances. Past Moot Court competitors, including Roth and Phillips, joined alumni to celebrate the silver anniversary of the dedication of the courtroom to John W. MacDonald ’26 in 1980.

MacDonald enrolled at Cornell when he was only 16 years old. He then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and law degree – all in only five years. In 1930, he started work as a professor in the law school.

MacDonald also racked up many accomplishments outside of Cornell. He chaired the New York State Law Revision Commission and wrote many law review articles.

Yesterday, law school students and professors, as well as alumni who had competed in Moot Court while at Cornell Law School, were invited to drink a glass of champagne in honor of MacDonald.

In a toast to the late professor, Faust Rossi ’60, the Samuel S. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques, who had MacDonald as a teacher, described him “as an outstanding lawyer, great as teacher’s scholar