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May 8, 2008
Contact: Mindie Paget, School of Law, (785) 864-8858.

U.S. Supreme Court justice hears law students test advocacy skills

LAWRENCE — Second-year law student Brian Nye printed out a photo of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. a few weeks ago and started delivering speeches to it.

He wanted to get used to the idea that the most senior judge in the nation would scrutinize his performance during the final round of the University of Kansas School of Law’s moot court competition.

“Up until I walked into the room for the final round, I was more nervous than I could believe,” Nye said. “But when I entered the room, my whole perception changed and I was more relaxed than ever. I finally convinced myself to relax and have fun. When else would I get to argue in front of such a powerful panel of judges in the near future?”

Nye and three other KU law students — Daniel Morris, Michael Crabb and Lindsey Heinz — presented oral arguments to Roberts and a panel of distinguished judges on Thursday. The finalists emerged from a pool of 46 students who competed in the law school’s moot court competition, which requires second-year students to analyze legal issues similar to those currently before the U.S. Supreme Court. Students must write a brief and make an oral argument as if they were appearing before the court.

Students in the finals of this year’s competition couldn’t have had a more realistic experience, as the chief justice of the United States presided over the arguments. Roberts was in town for a two-day visit to KU, where he delivered a public lecture and met with law and business students and faculty.

The moot court panel also included U.S. Circuit Judges Deanell Tacha and Mary Beck Briscoe, U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum and Kansas Supreme Court Justice Carol Beier.

During the round, the students responded to difficult questions from all of the judges. More than 120 people watched the arguments, including state and federal judges, attorneys and law faculty and students. Morris and Nye, who argued for the petitioner, were deemed the winning team.

All of the students performed exceptionally well, said Pam Keller, clinical associate professor of law and moot court adviser.

“They have worked very hard and clearly knew the law and had prepared for the many tough questions from the judges,” she said. “To see them maintain their poise and respond to all of the questions so professionally — in front of so many of their peers, professors, judges and the chief justice of the United States — was wonderful. It was a proud moment for those students, their families and the KU law school.”

The students had about a week and a half to prepare for the final round. They pored over their outlines and revisited relevant cases, reviewed questions asked by justices during oral arguments in similar cases and delivered practice speeches.

Despite the students’ rigorous preparation, arguing before the chief justice proved to be a surreal experience, Heinz said.

“I made a point not to really think about the magnitude of it all until after the arguments were complete,” she said. “Otherwise I think I would have let my nerves get the best of me. It’s just mind boggling to think that when I look back, this will likely be one of the biggest moments of my law career and it happened before I even passed the bar.”

Roberts, who argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court as an attorney, said that the students did a “fabulous job” of preparing for the round and maintaining control of their arguments in the face of intense scrutiny from the judges.

“For those of you observing, you may not appreciate how much work goes into this,” Roberts said. “What you have to remember is that for every question we asked, they had obviously prepared for 25 more.”

“It was quite clear to me that the four of you have done an extraordinary amount of work, and I appreciate that very much,” he said to the students.

Michael Crabb said arguing before the chief justice was exhilarating.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a more intense 15 minutes,” Crabb said. “All five judges took the competition very seriously; they seemed to have studied our fact scenario carefully and posed some incisive questions.”

In retrospect, Danny Morris managed to find some humor in the intense situation. He noted that the first 45 seconds of arguments consisted of preliminary information — introduction, statement of theme and outline of position.

“It is all memorized, leaving me way too much time to think unhelpful thoughts and debate whether the chief justice has the authority to forever ban a law student from practicing law based on a particularly stupid answer during a moot court competition,” Morris said.

Alhough only the top two teams earned the honor of arguing before the chief justice, the top eight teams will represent the school in national and international competitions next year.

The Kansas law firm of Foulston Siefkin LLP sponsors the Robert C. Foulston and George Siefkin Prizes for Excellence in Appellate Advocacy. Roberts and the other judges designated the following awards:

Best oral argument: Brian Nye
Second-place oral argument: Daniel Morris
Best brief: Brian Nye and Daniel Morris
Second-place brief: Luke Wohlford and Christina Elmore

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Overland Park 66212
Mike Crabb, a second-year law student, graduated from Blue Valley High School and received a bachelor’s in public relations and speech communication from Kansas State University. He is the son of Tony and Carol Crabb.

From Overland Park 66207
Brian Nye, a second-year law student, graduated from Shawnee Mission East High School and received a bachelor’s in political science from KU. He is the son of Mike and Jana Nye.

PAWNEE COUNTY
From Larned 67550
Christina Elmore, a second-year law student, graduated from Larned High School and received a bachelor’s in political science and history from William Jewell College. She is the daughter of George and Kay Elmore.

SEDGWICK COUNTY
From Wichita 67213
Danny Morris, a second-year law student, graduated from Wichita High School West and received a bachelor’s in language and literature from Sterling College. He is the son of Michael and Donna Morris.

From Wichita 67230
Luke Wohlford, a second-year law student, graduated from Andover High School and received a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in English from KU. He is the son of Carol and the late Bill Wohlford.

OKLAHOMA
From Norman 73072
Lindsey Morse Heinz, a second-year law student from Norman, Okla., graduated from Norman High School and received a bachelor’s in English from KU. She is the daughter of David and Judy Morse.

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