by Pamela Young, Published November 25, 2013
YPSILANTI - Two members of Eastern Michigan University’s mock trial team, Antonino Monea of Livonia and Steven Cole of Saline, swept the moot court team event by taking first place in the Great Lakes Regional qualifying tournament, Nov. 8-9 at Saginaw Valley State University.
Also competing for EMU was the team of Brian Walsh of Plymouth and Kaitlyn Dugas of Canton. The competition drew 26 teams from around the country.
Moot court, which simulates arguments before the Supreme Court, is one of the largest forensics activities in the country.
Monea and Cole took first with an undefeated record of 7 winning rounds. They now advance to the national championship January 17-18 at the Sandra Day O’Conner College of Law at Arizona State University.
In the best individual orator competition, Monea was awarded first place, Cole finished in third place and Dugas placed eighth out of the ten winners chosen.
“It was an amazing experience to be named number one,” Monea said. “It was a huge surprise, as I had never done moot court before.”
The moot court competition is a first for EMU mock trial students, which makes the first-place finishes even sweeter.
Moneo credits his success to his long-time participation in forensics. He also participates in Model United Nations, EMU’s mock trial program and the Fed Challenge, all of which involve public speaking.
“Moot court is like walking a legal tightrope while standing at a podium,” said C. Robert Dobronski, a lawyer for a local railroad and adjunct lecturer at EMU, who helped prepare the students. “It is a structured legal debate where you argue legal theory in front of several judges. To succeed, you need a strong and fast mind, a good work ethic and good forensic skills.”
Dobronski, who graduated from EMU in 2005, competed in mock trials while at EMU, and won a national championship in moot court while attending the Michigan State University Law School.
“Appellate advocacy or moot court is completely different than trial practice or mock trial, so there was a bit of a learning curve,” Dobronski said. “The students all did a remarkable job picking up on the legal issues and the methodology I instructed them on.”
Prior to the competition, the American Collegiate Moot Court Association sent two constitutional issues for the teams to prepare. The students had to prepare a Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue, and a constitutional issue involving the power of the president to detain terrorists without trial. The idea is to flesh out the legal issues or corner the advocate in a position that they will lose. There is no jury or witnesses. It is just the students, the judges and the law.
To prepare, Dobronski prepped each student in a method similar to how law students are trained. They analyzed the law, answered questions and responded to or changed their arguments and thoughts as the discussion dictated. The idea is to get the students used to both advanced legal thought and in-depth questions. The students then drafted a legal brief for each case and a legal outline laying out the arguments for each side. Once they fleshed out their arguments, practice oral arguments began.
“This simulation prepares them for speaking and to have every conceivable question asked prior to the competition,” Dobronski said.
Prior to the national championship, Monea and Cole will draft Supreme Court briefs (about 10 pages in length) as additional preparation. Their goal is to win an award for the best brief.
“I have known most of these students for years since I also help coach EMU’s mock trial team,” Dobronski said. “These students had the requisite skills to do well in moot court. I agreed to help because I knew it would benefit them in getting into law school and becoming employed after graduation.”