New York City’s budding legal eagles had the opportunity to spread their wings and soar to victory on an international stage this past February.
The Justice Resource Center, a New York City Department of Education partner that provides law-related programs and curricula to 46 career and technical education academies, sponsored a team to compete at the first International Moot Court, an event staged within the hallowed halls of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands.
The mock trial tournament, which featured 12 high school aged squads hailing from Argentina, Russia and Poland among other countries, played out like a typical court room drama. Student lawyers delivered prepared arguments, faced verbal barrages from opposing legal teams and addressed lines of questioning from court judges based upon a classic mock case created by the International Bar Association of England.
And in the end, the best and brightest local high school “all-stars,” selected from the rich talent rosters found within New York City’s legal academies, defeated all comers and took home the championship.
“I’m thrilled for these students,” said team coach and Clifford Chance lawyer Ari Kahn. “They can feel like their work has paid off.”
He added, “I was not able to be there in person. [But] I video chatted with them through Skype after their big win. It was great to see them so excited . . . they were jumping up and down.”
The inaugural contest, which was held from February 14th – 17th, revolved around the fabricated trial of “Felippe Torres vs. The Prosecution.” In the case’s fictitious back story, Torres, a fictional militia leader found guilty of crimes against humanity, was appealing a 2007 decision rendered against him in the International Criminal Court.
Dutch law practitioners and Amsterdam Law School students served as moot court judges during the opening rounds, while the championship match-up – – a clash that pitted New York versus the team representing Caracas, Venezuela – – was judged by five sworn International Court justices in the historic Peace Palace, a Dutch landmark known as the “seat of international law.”
“It’s been something I’ve been dreaming about doing for years,” said Debra Lesser, Executive Director of the Justice Resource Center, about the first Moot Court competition. “This dream could only become a reality because of others that believed in this idea. The City Hall of The Hague were amazing in supporting the project. [And] the teachers and lawyer coaches were equally amazing.”
The students received a detailed case information packet last fall. With the help of New York City based legal professionals like Kahn and his colleagues from Clifford Chance, the All-Star team conjured strategies, reviewed testimonies and wrote statements based upon the Rules of Procedure and Evidence established by The Assembly of States Parties for the ICC.
“This competition was tremendously challenging,” said Kahn. “Students must not only prepare an argument on a legal topic and present it in public, but they must be prepared to address the arguments being made by the students on the opposing team. They must also respond, as they are speaking, to questions from the ‘judges’ who are allowed to interrupt and challenge the students on the points they are making.”
Coach Kahn added, “[The students] have a chance to not only learn, but think about the subject matter in a way that is not normally available in a classroom setting.”
While in the Netherlands, the NYC All-Stars had the chance to play tourist during their down time. Lesser and her chaperones took the students on a Hague City tour, an Amsterdam city trip that included a visit to the Ann Frank House and to a dinner reception thrown by the Mayor of The Hague. And to celebrate their victory, the student attorneys attended a dance party held in their honor at a local Dutch school.
Will this first International Moot Court competition victory yield New York City’s future trial lawyers? The answer is unclear, but both Lesser and Kahn said they want the participants to take away much more loftier lessons from the experience.
“Will it inspire them to become litigators? I don’t know,” said Kahn. “But I hope it will inspire them to find work they can be passionate about and to appreciate an international and U.S. legal system that works to protect and grant opportunity to all.”
Added Lesser, “Our goal is for all of our kids to have an interest in the law, the legal process, the fundamental values that they are based upon . . . for kids to be college and career ready.”
Here’s a list of the NYC students who participated and the schools from which they hail:
Mishal Ayaz, John Bowne High School
Rose Balzano, James Madison High School
Shannika Campbell, Harry S Truman High School
Tyler Deharrte, Cobble Hill School of American Studies
Rafael Henriquez, Bronx High School of Science
Benjamin Hoffman, High School of American Studies at Lehman College
Alban Hoxha, Herbert H. Lehman High School
Catrina Livermore, Forest Hills High School
Christopher Llego, Sheepshead Bay High School
Juan Lopez, Flushing High School
Katherine Mallary, High School of American Studies at Lehman College
Tiana Quattruci, Herbert H. Lehman High School
Daniel Pena, Forest Hills High School
Gabriel Pariente, James Madison High School
Sophia Weinstock, Susan E. Wagner High School
Peiran Zhang, Francis Lewis High School