The University of Florida Moot Court team held its 32nd Annual Zimmerman Kiser Sutcliffe Final Four Moot Court Competition on Friday, Sept. 15, in the Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center.
Out of 86 second-year students vying for the a spot on the 2017 team, only 26 received invitations. After the second round, only four remained to compete in the final round, with a fifth as an alternate.
The Competitors: Savannah Rigby and Michael Beato represented the petitioner’s side. Rigby spoke first, followed by her co-counsel Beato. Rigby also delivered the final closing statement.
Representing the respondents were William O’Leary and John Rutledge. O’Leary spoke third in the line-up, followed by Rutledge.
Angelica Inclan was on deck as the alternate.
The Judges: Four honorable justices and judges from the Florida Supreme Court and the Florida First District Court of Appeal presided over the court, including three UF Law alumni.
They took time to travel to the University of Florida Levin College of Law in the height of Hurricane Irma’s aftermath – solely for this competition.
“It was a lot of pressure,” said Savannah Rigby. “[but] the minute I got up to the podium it all disappeared and adrenaline kicked in. I wasn’t nervous anymore […] I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was calm, but I definitely had calmed down. The excitement of being done was almost more fun.”
Preparation: The final round highlighted oral arguments. Each speaker took the podium and supported his or her case while being questioned by the judges.
The competition itself was not limited to oral skills, however. Copious amounts of research and writing were necessary prior to what was showcased in the final round. Each student had to prepare an appellate brief that could hold up to the examination from their peers as well as members of Florida’s judicial system.
“There were multiple sessions that [we] got asked about 20 questions in a 14-minute period, and it was to prepare us so we wouldn’t get any curve balls,” Rigby said.
Case facts: Two police officers pulled over Audrey Gauge, petitioner, during a routine traffic stop. It was around 11:45 p.m. on a rural public road. It was notably dark outside, with only a flickering streetlight to break up the darkness. The officers were used to dealing with street-racing “young-hoodlums” on this road.
During the traffic stop, Gauge rolled down her tinted driver’s side window partially. She took out her cell phone and began recording the police officer, utilizing the flash on her phone as an additional source of light to adequately capture the interaction.
The officer asked Gauge to lower the phone. The conversation turned into an altercation and ended with the police officer exerting physical force to arrest Gauge. The rest of the details were up for debate, with no detail unimportant.
Arguments: Each team had two main points of contention, split up between each teammate. The presiding judges added to these arguments through tough questioning of each speaker.
Main issues included: whether filming a police officer performing his duties always constituted a First Amendment right, the restrictions to this right based off of the “inherent dangers” of traffic stops, and if qualified immunity could be applied based on how the officer handled the situation.
Results: The judges themselves remarked on what a “superb” job both sides did. The students held their own in the onslaught of questions brought on by the judges and did their best to counter anything brought against them.
In the end, the court’s panel announced the petitioner’s side (Rigby and Beato) as the best team, with O’Leary pronounced the best oralist. Overall, it was an all-around impressive display of the talent cultivated by the Moot Court Team, according to the panel.
There was a reason the majority of 1Ls were required to observe the competition in lieu of their legal writing class: there was much to learn.
Here are just a few takeaways from the competition:
- Get to the point. Whether writing or speaking, assume the audience will share these three characteristics: busy, intelligent and experienced. Don’t waste their time. Be concise and get to the point of the argument immediately.
- Be prepared. It is not enough to rely on a well-written brief. Expect questions, define terms and brainstorm how the other side will argue ahead of time so these arguments can be sufficiently countered.
- Hypos exist outside of exams. The presiding judges offered many hypotheticals and altered fact patterns to nail down main points or underscore flaws of the arguments presented. This showed how imperative it is to be able to apply the facts of the law.
- Use primary authorities wisely. Each side had multiple case holdings to pull from, but they didn’t just rattle off these case names right away. They introduced relevant cases as the court addressed a corresponding point.
- Have a strong conclusion. End strong!
If you missed out on watching the competition, the recording can be found here: https://mediasite.video.ufl.edu/Mediasite/Play/3f0b5e2d24374ed9b99856ac76ec926c1d