Barry McNamara  |   Published October 15, 2020

Case Closed: Doner Named Winner

Senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois, wins 10th Annual Monmouth College Moot Court competition.

MOOT COURT 2020: David Timmerman is pictured in the center. Also pictured are, clockwise from upp... MOOT COURT 2020: David Timmerman is pictured in the center. Also pictured are, clockwise from upper left, Alexandra Chamberlain, Andre Audette, Gavin Gard, Judge John Scotillo, Matt Datlof, Joe Doner and Judge Carey Gill.MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s Student Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois is also now its moot court champion.

Joe Doner ’21 of Arlington Heights, Illinois, earned that honor Wednesday evening, topping three other finalists in the 10th Annual Monmouth College Moot Court competition.

A field of 10 participants was whittled down to four during a preliminary online round Oct. 10. Joining Doner in the final was his classmate, Gavin Gard of Danville, Illinois, as well as juniors Alexandra Chamberlain of Canton, Illinois, and Matt Datlof of Las Vegas. All four plan to attend law school.

The judges for the final round included two Monmouth alumni, as well as a former Monmouth administrator who helped bring the moot court competition to campus: Judge Carey Gill ’98 of the First Judicial Circuit of Illinois; retired Judge John Scotillo ’72 of Cook County Circuit Court; and David Timmerman, former Monmouth dean and current provost at Carthage College in Wisconsin.

The 10th annual competition was unlike any of the others, as it was held online via Zoom. Another difference was it included a legal brief writing competition, which Datlof won. Doner placed second and Chamberlain took third.

“We had a fantastic competition this year, even with the change in format to a virtual event,” said Monmouth political science professor Andre Audette, the event’s organizer. “The judges asked some tough questions about the case and the students rose to the occasion.”

The students debated a case regarding a church’s right to freely exercise its religion and the state’s interest in maintaining separation of church and state. Chamberlain and Doner argued the church’s case, while Datlof and Gard represented the state.

“That was a hot bench, but you guys handled it really well. That sometimes happens. You have all these points you plan to make, and then the questions start coming, and you have to say ‘Well, it’s time for Plan B.’” Brad Nahrstadt ’89

Those “tough questions” by the judges were referenced by another Monmouth graduate in the legal profession, Brad Nahrstadt ’89, who along with fellow attorney Dan Cotter ’88 chatted with the finalists while they waited for the judges’ verdict.

“That was a hot bench, but you guys handled it really well,” said Nahrstadt. “That sometimes happens. You have all these points you plan to make, and then the questions start coming, and you have to say ‘Well, it’s time for Plan B.’”

When the judges returned from their virtual chamber, they provided feedback to the competitors, which Audette said is one of the many positives of moot court.

“The judges offer feedback to the participants in a collegial and supportive manner,” he said Audette. “That’s a very important part of the competition.”

That feedback included praise from Scotillo.

“You had good courtroom presence, good demeanor,” he said. “Never underestimate that. It’s a tremendous attribute to have.”

One of the competitors Scotillo was referring to was Doner.

“The thing I’ve enjoyed most about the event over the last few years has been getting to know the judges and lawyers that help out with the competition,” said Doner. “It’s been a pleasure to know these amazing professionals and learn more about the law from them.”

Like Doner, Datlof is a veteran of Monmouth’s moot court competition, competing in each of his three years on campus.

“I’ve enjoyed the intellectual challenge of having to craft an argument with a limited set of facts and precedent,” he said. “Even though it requires strenuous hours of work and commitment, it is very rewarding to present all that hard work to the judges.”

This year was Chamberlain’s first competition.

“I didn’t want to rush into anything, but after talking to many participants and Andre, I knew it was something I wanted to do at least once while at Monmouth,” she said. “The political science department also offered it as a quarter-credit class. The judges took the time to go over the strong and weak points in our arguments after we presented, and they were genuinely interested in seeing us succeed.”

“I cannot recommend moot court enough to Monmouth College students. It is so rare for undergraduate institutions to have a competition like this.” Joe Doner ’21

Gard also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the law from legal professionals.

“The most positive thing I have gotten out of the competition is the opportunity to meet the awesome competitors, advisers and judges and ask them questions,” he said.

As the 2020 champion, Doner can make the closing argument on behalf of moot court.

“I cannot recommend moot court enough to Monmouth College students,” he said. “It is so rare for undergraduate institutions to have a competition like this and it is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about American law and how the legal system works here in the U.S.”

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