Santa Clara Law Moot Court Team Wins National Competition

February 5, 2010 at 12:00 am

The Santa Clara Law International Moot Court team took first place at the 2009 Pace University School of Law International Criminal Court Moot Competition, held January 30-Feb. 1 at Pace University in White Plains, New York.

Competition was stiff, with teams from some of the continent’s most-respected law schools in attendance. Santa Clara Law’s team members were Ann Marie Ursini, Brandon Douglass, and Adam Birnbaum. Associate Professor of Law, Beth Van Schaack, served as team coach. The judges for the Pace round were drawn from the ranks of the world’s top international lawyers and international criminal law practitioners, including Robert Petit, the Chief Prosecutor for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia; the Dutch Ambassador to the United Nations; Larry Johnson, Assistant Secretary-General fo Legal Affairs; and federal and state judges.

The Pace Competition is the North American preliminary round for the global competition at The Hague, the seat of the International Criminal Court (ICC), scheduled for Feb. 15-20. Santa Clara Law’s team will now, along with runner-up Yale Law School, move on to compete at The Hague against teams from all over the world. While Santa Clara has won the Pace competition before, this is the first time that the winners at Pace qualify for the global competition. The Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands has graciously offered to finance the teams’ travel to The Hague.

"This is a great testament to Santa Clara’s program in international criminal law,” said Van Schaack. "One observer commented that the Santa Clara team’s arguments were ‘devastating.’ Another team’s coach remarked that he had never seen such quality of presentation at a moot court competition. The judges in the third preliminary round found it nearly impossible to decide who, between team members Ann Marie and Brandon, should be awarded best oralist.”

In the preliminary stage of the competition, the judges named Brandon and Adam Birnbaum best oralists for their respective rounds. Brandon was named best oralist in the final round, where Santa Clara Law argued for the defense against the prosecutor, from Yale Law School, and the victim’s advocate, from Pace University School of Law.

"The judges really made sure we had a hot bench,” said Birnbaum. "They pushed the teams until we reached the edge of our understanding of the law, and then they kept pushing just to see how we held up. I think we got a lot of points for not cracking under the barrage of questions. I kept making jokes about being in Rocky IV, and that’s certainly what it felt like.”

"The competition was a lot of hard work, and the trip was exhausting, but the results made it worthwhile,” he added. "We’re busy making preparations for the Big Show at The Hague, and the list of schools competing there is truly dizzying.”

Santa Clara Law has had students and graduates intern and work at all of the international criminal tribunals, which are adjudicating grave international crimes committed in Cambodia, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. Of the few American nationals working at the ICC, of which the United States is not a member, several are Santa Clara Law graduates. Santa Clara’s summer program in international criminal law in The Hague is based out of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where several Santa Clara graduates are senior trial attorneys with the office of the prosecutor. Santa Clara also offers students the opportunity to work with the international criminal tribunal in Phnom Penh, which is prosecuting surviving members of the Khmer Rouge, in connection with its South East Asia summer program. Santa Clara Law will host a symposium on international criminal law on March 13 and 14 that will include a keynote speech from Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, one of the foremost proponents of international criminal law and the ICC.

The ICC Competition is unique in that teams consist of three members, each of which assumes the role of one of the three participants in ICC prosecutions: the Prosecution, the Defence, and the Victims’ Advocates, a new role developed for the first time for the International Criminal Court. Each team member must also be able to argue "off brief,” providing an incredible opportunity to understand the relevant substantive and procedure law from multiple perspectives.