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- by  Abby Weingarten

Sharpening their pre-law proficiency, students on the New College Moot Court Team proved once again in early February that their legal skills are formidable.

During what was part of a group Independent Study Project (ISP) on “Advocacy in Action,” the team gave a moot court presentation about a fictional vaccine act on February 4 in the Music Room at College Hall.

“I’m so proud of our students at New College; they have all done extremely well,” said David Fugett, New College’s general counsel and the team’s coach. “Moot court is such a great exercise for students to learn how to think like lawyers, and our students are incredibly talented.”

Moot court events are regular occurrences at New College—providing students (often those on the pre-law track) with the opportunity to participate in simulated court proceedings. Exercises involve students analyzing and arguing both sides of a hypothetical legal issue, while using procedures modeled after those employed in state and federal appellate courts. Judges question students, testing their knowledge of case law and the cohesion of their oral arguments.

New College’s presentation involved a case problem from the American Moot Court Association (AMCA), which invited students to tackle the hypotheticals: Whether Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause when it enacted the Polio Vaccine Act authorizing the president to order compulsory polio vaccinations, and Whether the president’s mandatory vaccine order violates petitioner’s rights to liberty and privacy protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, including whether Jacobson v. Massachusetts should be revisited. Each student advocate had 10 minutes to present an oral argument.

The judges presiding over the February 4 event were The Honorable Adam S. Tanenbaum, First District Court of Appeal (Tallahassee); and Garin C. Hoover, a New College Trustee, lawyer and the owner of Hoover Realty, LLC.

Student Libby Harrity won the overall Best Advocate Award.

The Respondent Team (consisting of first-year students Alexa Syprett and Libby Harrity) was declared the winner. Harrity won the overall Best Advocate Award, and second-year political science student Natalie Spivey earned the Best Advocate Award for the Petitioner. Team members also included first-years Francis García Fernández (a political science and economics student) and Connor Ehrich (a political science and philosophy student).

“My team had to argue in defense of the petitioner, meaning that we had to look at sides of the argument that were against vaccine mandates,” said Spivey, who plans to attend law school after New College. “While I didn’t personally agree with certain aspects of our argument, it was very interesting and beneficial to look at all sides of these arguments to see how other people think and view things; that’s essentially what lawyers do for a living, and the experience was very useful and thought-provoking.”

Spivey and Harrity argued in favor of vaccine mandates.

“Getting to practice and compete on material that seemed to be so intimidating at first was a fun challenge. Because everyone was so supportive and encouraging of each other, I was able to grow a lot more confident in my presentation abilities,” said Syprett, who aims to pursue either a history or political science area of concentration with a secondary focus in Spanish language and literature. “One of my favorite parts of moot court was how genuinely happy everyone was in seeing the growth and success of our peers. It struck me as a uniquely New College approach to competition, in which the cooperative investment in every individual’s growth is centered.”

Harrity agreed.

“The competition was a lot of fun and very academically beneficial for everyone involved,” said Harrity, a political science student. “As well as allowing ourselves to enter the lawyer mindset, we had to adapt to a public-speaking environment where our arguments are actively and directly being attacked.”

The experience was a big confidence booster for García Fernández.

“Competing in moot court and practicing with Mr. Fugett has developed my public-speaking skills and confidence,” García Fernández said. “My favorite part was getting to know the judges, learning about their legal experience and receiving feedback. I’m excited to practice with my team, opponents and Mr. Fugett next year.”

After the moot court presentation, Judge Tanenbaum told Fugett: “Your students are extraordinarily talented. I enjoyed being able to talk to the students about possible careers in the law. I really was impressed with them, and I hope I can stay involved with the program.”

The experience served as stellar practice for larger upcoming events, and New College has already made its mark in the moot court (as well as the mock trial) arena.

In February 2021, for the second year in a row, New College students competed in the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) Regional Tournament. Although the team narrowly missed moving on to the opening round of the championship series, student Evan Hunter was named to the all-region attorney team (a first for New College).

The first time the New College team competed in the AMTA event was in 2020, when students went up against the top teams from the University of Miami, Florida International University and Flagler College, as well as a team from England’s De Montfort University (New College outscored law students at De Montfort by 15 points).

Another milestone for New College students came at the end of October 2020, when they competed in the Mid-South Regional of the 2020-2021 AMCA national championship tournament.

As Harrity said, “This year’s competition will serve as great practice for when our team enters competitions against other schools next year.”

Interested in moot court or mock trial? Contact Fugett at 941-487-4877 or dfugett@ncf.edu.

Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.