NIU law students compete in moot court

By Steve Carasso

Two second-year NIU law students were winners in the NIU College of Law’s Tenth Annual Prize Moot Court competition held last month.

The competition is a voluntary program for second-year law students and is sponsored by the Moot Court Society, which is an NIU student organization. The group is headed by Chief Justice Leonardo Castro and Associate Justices M. Elizabeth Duffy and Jay Wiegman.

“It (the competition) provides students with an opportunity to write a legal brief and to further develop their oral skills in the art of appellate advocacy,” Assistant Dean of Law and Director of the moot court program Lenny Mandell said.

This year’s case, involving sixth amendment rights and firearm registration regulations, focused on questions involving a defendant’s right to self-representation over warnings from a judge and the knowledge required to violate a firearms registration statute.

The winners, Abraham Kassis and Michael O’Brien, survived competition from over 20 teams initially entered in the month- long series of appellate courtroom battles. They received the Carl W. Cicero prize named for an NIU law school alumnus who died in 1985. Second place honors went to Larry Smith and James Mertes, both second-year law students.

“We had to do a lot of research which went into writing our brief,” Kassis said. “A great deal of time was spent reading case laws and we were finding new factors every time we read.”

The competitors were graded on their written and oral briefs which became a learning experience for many teams.

“The competition makes you aware that you have to look at all the issues,” Kassis said. “You also need to be well-prepared on the issue and you have to know the majority and minority arguments.”

Although he was calm during his presentation, Kassis said he was nervous at the beginning. “You start making your argument and you realize that the judges you’re talking to know so much more. But after you get into the thick of it, you forget that the judges are there.”