The Buffalo Law Experience

Wechsler Criminal Law Moot Court competitors convened in Buffalo to argue the Sixth Amendment Right to a Jury Trial

Left to right: Mac Morey and Mathri Thannikkotu, Wechsler winners from the University of Miami Law School; Hon. William J. Hochul, Jr.’84, the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York; Hon. Erin M. Peradotto ’84, Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department; Hon. Eugene F. Pigott, Jr. ’73, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals; and John Kennelly and Nick Christianson from the University of North Dakota, who placed second.

Twenty-two teams from law schools across the country came to Buffalo on March 28 to compete in the 17th Annual Herbert Wechsler National Criminal Law Moot Court Competition organized by the School of Law. The only national moot court contest in the United States to focus on topics in substantive criminal law, the competition is named after the drafter of the Model Penal Code. It is sponsored by the law school's Buffalo Criminal Law Society and held in the Erie County Courthouse.

This year’s Herbert Wechsler Competition Problem involved the U.S. Supreme Court’s ongoing effort to determine the proper scope of the Sixth Amendment jury trial right and its relationship to judicial fact-finding that takes place in the sentencing process.  It was based upon United States v. Jones, a D.C. Circuit case that last fall fell just short of being accepted for plenary Supreme Court review, a rejection that drew a strong dissent from Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Ginsburg.

Law schools competing in the 2015 Wechsler Competition included the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, Ohio State, the University of Colorado, the University of Kansas, New York University, William & Mary, Catholic Law School, New York Law School, Touro Law School, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Toledo, University of Miami, West Virginia University and the University of Louisville.  Additional teams came from Rhode Island and North Carolina.

After a number of hard fought and closely decided rounds, two of the 22 teams advanced to the Final Round and argued before a distinguished School of Law alumni bench: Hon. Eugene F. Pigott, Jr. ‘73, Associate Judge of the New York Court of Appeals; Hon. Erin M. Peradotto ‘84, Associate Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department; and Hon. William J. Hochul, Jr. ‘84, the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York.

The winners of the 2015 Wechsler Competition were Mathri Thannikkotu and Mac Morey from the University of Miami Law School, who narrowly prevailed over Nick Christianson and John Kennelly from the University of North Dakota.  

The School of Law was represented by two teams, one comprised of Kathryn Hartnett ‘15 and Benjamin Nelson ‘15, and one comprised of Mark Murphy ‘15 and Lynda Keonig ‘16. The coach for both 2015 law school Wechsler Competition teams was Audrey Herman ‘11.  Benjamin Nelson ‘15 won the Competition’s coveted Ryan J. Mullins Award for best embodying the spirit of the Wechsler Competition.

The two awards for the best briefs went to the University of Louisville (best brief for petitioner) and the University of North Dakota (best brief for respondent).  In the earlier rounds, the Best Oralist Awards went to Zach Neumann of Ohio State University (1st place), Michael Ellis of the University of Washington (2nd place), and Jake Blair of the University of Wisconsin (3rd place). In the Final Round, the Best Oralist Award went to Mathri Thannikkotu of the University of Miami.

The Buffalo Criminal Law Society’s Executive Board, including Eric Curtis ‘16, Alexandra Cusano ‘16, Merrick Sadler ‘16, Megan Hartl ‘16, and Joshua Jansch ‘16, was responsible for mounting and managing this highly successful event.  

The Herbert Wechsler National Moot Court Competition began 17 years ago under the aegis of the Buffalo Criminal Law Center and the  Buffalo Criminal Law Society.