The Law School was bustling with arguments and counterarguments as two dozen second- and third-year students and nearly 50 volunteer judges took part in an annual SUNY Buffalo Law tradition: the intramural Charles S. Desmond Moot Court Competition.
The tournament, which culminated in final-round arguments on Oct. 30, draws from actual cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The hypothetical case argued by the students concerned a retail chain that sold Washington Redskins merchandise, and an allegation by a Native American plaintiff that the retailer violated an ordinance prohibiting such sales as racially offensive. The participants considered a question of the court’s jurisdiction, as well as the issue of whether the ordinance infringed on the business’ free-speech rights. The case was created by research and writing instructor Patrick J. Long and Professor George Kannar.
Third-year student Andrew DeMasters, president of the Buffalo Moot Court Board, says the real work comes in advance of competition week. “The students write about a 25-page appellate brief, which the Moot Court Board grades anonymously,” he says. “We grade the briefs so that individuals who did very well in covering all the issues would be rewarded for their hard work. At the same time, those who are very good at oral argument would get a separate award for advocacy, strictly based on their performance during the competition.”
Those awards were given – and the four semifinalist teams announced – at the competition banquet on Oct. 28.
Third-year student Kate Hartman served as competition chair.
In the hard-fought final round, argued in the Francis J. Letro Courtroom, two teams of third-years faced off, the team of Steven Maffucci and Patrick Leavy facing Steven Fisher and Gerald Whalen. They had tough questioning from a three-judge panel that included Hon. Eugene F. Pigott Jr. ’73, Hon. H. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. ’61 and Hon. Jeremiah J. McCarthy.
In the end, Fisher and Whalen came out victorious.
For Fisher, the Desmond competition was a warm-up for the Jessup international law moot court. “I hadn’t done Desmond in my 2L year and I wanted to experience it,” he says. “And it was good to get a chance to work with U.S. law.”
The competition, he says, “provided me with more experience, which was what I was looking for – the chance to argue before judges of that caliber, and respond to questions by people who have spent decades asking these kinds of questions. That in itself was worth the time Gerry and I invested.”
That time was substantial, his partner says. “I was hesitant getting into the competition because it’s the heart of the semester,” Whalen says. “I didn’t want to shortchange myself or my partner.”
But, he says, “if you can confidently develop your ability to address a roomful of people, it’s a great skill to try to refine during your three years of law school.
“I was nervous getting up before the judges,” he adds, “but when I left the room, I wanted to do it all over again.”
Others who achieved distinction in the competition: