Jeff Rankin  |   Published January 07, 2015

Moot Court

Monmouth students exposed to graduate-level courtroom exercise
  • Monmouth College student Mackenzi Lafferty of Canton, Ill., argues on behalf of the United States Government in a moot court simulation based on an actual Supreme Court case regarding First Amendment rights on social media. She was declared Top Advocate in the annual competition.
Monmouth College students considering careers in law recently had the opportunity to test their courtroom mettle in simulated proceedings, mentored and judged by legal professionals.

Held during fall semester, the annual moot court competition featured a preliminary round and a finals round. Students competed for cash prizes, arguing an actual court case – in this instance Gandil v. United States of America, in which a defendant sentenced for posting threatening messages on Facebook appealed his conviction, based on First Amendment and related rights.

In the week leading to the opening rounds, a tutoring session for the students was presented by assistant professor of political science Nathan Kalmoe and dean of faculty David Timmerman, who helped establish the competition in 2011.

“Moot court is something that we do well at a liberal arts college like Monmouth,” Timmerman said. “We take something that students normally don’t get until they are second-year law students and put it in their undergraduate experience. They take a case that’s been put together in a way that is fair between two sides. They need to understand it, they need to conduct arguments and they need to be ready to answer questions on their feet from judges who are going to ask them very difficult questions.

“I’ve always described it as liberal arts on steroids,” he added, “because they have to be able to read critically, think critically and speak clearly and effectively.”

Eleven Monmouth students, from freshmen to seniors and representing majors from computer science to business, competed in the initial rounds, which were judged by attorneys Kate Cross ’08 of Roscoe, Ill., Daniel Cotter ’88 of Chicago, and Brad Nahrstadt ’89 and his wife, Debra Nahstadt, of Buffalo Grove, Ill.

For the first time in the competition’s history, cash prizes were awarded to finalists, thanks to gifts provided by Cotter and the Nahrstadts.

Emerging as finalists were Abrafi Osei-Kofi, a junior political science major from Ghana; Ryan Brennan, a senior business administration major from Knoxville, Ill.; Nick Callaway, a junior political science major from Galesburg, Ill.; and Mackenzi Lafferty, a sophomore international business major from Canton, Ill.

In the finals round, the Hon. Robert D. McLaren ’66, of the Illinois Appellate Court 2nd District presided as chief judge. He was assisted by Monmouth College faculty members Lee McGaan, chair of the department of communication studies, and Rebecca Buel, director of forensics.

Callaway and Brennan served as counsel for the petitioner, Arnold Gandil. Osei-Kofi and Lafferty were counsel for the respondent, the United States Government.

Lafferty, appearing in her first moot court competition, was awarded the prize of Top Advocate. Although in the actual Supreme Court case the petitioner’s sentence was vacated, the judges were unanimous in their decision that Lafferty, who spoke on behalf of the government, had presented the most clear and compelling argument.

Judge McLaren noted that while he had previously participated in 15 to 20 moot court competitions, this was the first one at the undergraduate level. “It’s definitely a good thing,” he said, “especially if you plan on going to law school. Considering that 50 years ago I was a senior at this school, the college has come a long way and so have its students, and I just wish that this experience had been available when I was young.”

Other students participating in the competition were Moses Akinborho of Lansing, Ill.; Donald Banks, Melissa Hernandez and Neddy Velez, all of Chicago; Liam Merritt of Monmouth; Sujith Santhosh of India; and William Savage of Oak Forest, Ill.
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