The 2013 Desmond Competition problem concerned two hot-button issues: the scope of the president’s power to make appointments to federal positions while Congress is in recess; and whether a corporation enjoys a Free Exercise Clause right to refuse to provide government-mandated health insurance that includes access to contraceptives.
The Charles S. Desmond Moot Court Competition, the most prestigious appellate advocacy competition at SUNY Buffalo Law School, has now been around for more than three decades. But every year, this venerable intramural competition, organized as a hypothetical U.S. Supreme Court argument, centers around the very latest controversies in constitutional law.
This year’s Desmond Competition was no exception. The 2013 Desmond Competition problem concerned two hot-button issues: the scope of the president’s power to make appointments to federal positions while Congress is in recess; and whether a corporation enjoys a Free Exercise Clause right to refuse to provide government-mandated health insurance that includes access to contraceptives. The first question will be argued in the Supreme Court in January, and most observers expect the Court to decide the second one later in its current Term.
The 2013 Competition concluded on Oct. 25 with a hard-fought Final Round before a packed audience in the Francis M. Letro Courtroom. A team of third-year students, Henry Zomerfeld and Jessica Noto, edged out second-year students Jessica Carbone and Jeff Hartman.
The 2013 Final Round judges, playing the role of the U.S. Supreme Court, were three distinguished alumni appellate judges: Hon. Eugene F. Pigott ’73, of the state Court of Appeals; Hon. Samuel Green ’67, recently retired from the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, NYS Supreme Court; and Hon. Erin M. Peradotto ’84, Appellate Division, Fourth Department, NYS Supreme Court. Justice Green served as the Chief Justice
They were “definitely a hot bench,” according to Lindsey Luczka ’14, president of the SUNY Buffalo Moot Court Board, which runs the Competition. “Overall they were helpful and supportive, but in the Final Round they gave the competitors a hard time on the issues. If they had a question, they wanted answers.”
Peradotto says she likes to volunteer for the Desmond competition because “I love seeing how good the students are. They are so prepared, poised and professional. Every year the quality of the students is so impressive.”
The Competition began on Monday, October 21, with three days of preliminary oral argument rounds, followed by quarterfinal and semifinal rounds on Thursday. A large number of local lawyers and judges once again volunteered to serve on the bench in these earlier rounds, and the 2013 Desmond competitors also enjoyed the benefits of a Brief Writing Workshop, led by Kevin F. English of Philips Lytle, and an Oral Argument Workshop, led by Lawrence Vilardo of Connors & Vilardo. More than 20 two-member student teams, comprised of second and third year students, registered for the 2013 Desmond Competition, which also required each team to submit a written brief.
Zomerfeld and Noto had teamed up for other moot court competitions in the past; they are partners on the Jessup International Moot Court team and will enter the mediation moot court competition this year. They also work together to coach the mock trial team at SUNY Buffalo State. But Noto says that she and Zomerfeld made a point of waiting until their third year, amassing moot court experience as a team, before tackling the Desmond.
“The Desmond is a big thing at the Law School,” says Zomerfeld. “Moot court is a good experience because it has a writing component as well as oral advocacy. It prepares you for real-life practice. The questions from the bench require you to think on your feet and be prepared for any question that might come.”
“Even though we were busy, we thought it was important,” Noto says. “A lot of preparation went into it. We worked on this constantly for three weeks, 24- hours a day. I even had dreams about the Desmond."