Riemenschneider, Stavers Win Moot Court Competition
She was an electrical engineer who decided to go to law school on a whim. He was a dot-com management consultant who was experienced in high-pressure speaking engagements before CEOs and boards of directors. Their unlikely partnership, forged in their first-year section, carried third-year law students Kristen Riemenschneider and Jason Stavers through to the final round of the 77th annual William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition, which they won Saturday, April 1. Riemenschneider also picked up the award for Best Oralist.
While Stavers and Riemenschneider argued on behalf of the government in a fictional case that drew from national debates on terrorism, wiretapping, and extraordinary rendition, third-year law students Scott Tenley and Paul Rugani argued on behalf of the accused terrorist. Judges Edith Brown Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, Paul V. Niemeyer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Court, and Kenneth F. Ripple of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit presided over the final round.
This year’s Moot Court Competition attracted more than 120 students, who began participating in the event during their second year. Quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final round are held during the student’s third year. The winners and Best Oralist are awarded a monetary prize.
The case the Moot Court Board crafted took many of its cues from that of Abu Ali, an American citizen arrested in Saudi Arabia who confessed to involvement in several terrorist plots. The fairly unpublicized case was tried in the Eastern District of Virginia, where he was convicted for 30 years. During the trial Ali claimed he was tortured by Saudi officials, and charged that the FBI was improperly involved with the interrogations. In the Moot Court case, the defendant was appealing a conviction of 80 years, and the two teams argued the case based on two questions: whether the defendant’s videotaped confession was admitted into evidence in violation of due process because he was not read his rights, and whether wiretapping evidence obtained without a warrant was admissible under the Fourth Amendment. (In real life, Ali’s charge of illegal wiretapping came to light only recently, after the Moot Court case was written).
“That case will get appealed and might get a little more publicity,” Stavers predicted.
The two teams had tossed a coin over who would argue for the defendant—both had done so in the semifinal round.
“We had to do a lot more work, but it kept it fresh,” said Stavers.
During her oral argument, Riemenschneider contended that the interrogations by Saudi officials were not a joint venture with the FBI. “I argued that a confession given to Saudi officials in prison should have been admissible in court even though he wasn’t given Miranda warnings and there were allegations of torture.”
“I argued that [the requirement for a FISA court warrant for wiretaps on U.S. citizens] doesn’t apply, essentially in wartime, that when the subject of the surveillance is the agent of an attacking foreign power, the president is acting as commander-in-chief, and is operating in a military sense,” said Stavers.
“The wiretap issue has been heavily analyzed in the press because of this NSA program written up in the New York Times,” he added. The government has published a number of documents defending the administration’s position, and scholars have also written on the subject, which offered resources to plan his argument.
But “we weren’t allowed to use outside materials after a certain cut-off date,” Riemenschneider explained.
Stavers, who has studied recorded Supreme Court oral arguments, felt positive about his team’s performance Saturday.
“I never think that I’ve done a very good job with oral argument,” said Riemenschneider, adding, “I’m always the very nervous one, and he’s always the very calm one.”
The two originally teamed up on the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition their first year, and represented the law school in the National Moot Court competition last year. Both praised Professor Robert Sayler’s oral advocacy courses in helping them prepare for the spotlight.
Riemenschneider, who graduated from the University of Virginia with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, worked as an engineer after graduating, in a job that also allowed her to start writing patents. “Then I decided to come to law school. It was kind of a snap decision, but it worked out pretty well,” she said. After law school she will clerk for Judge Francis M. Allegra of the United States Court of Federal Claims, an Article I court that hears cases filed against the government, including torts, tax, patent, and Indian claims cases.
Stavers worked as a management consultant in his hometown, San Francisco, after graduating with an English degree from Yale. At the time, “any 20-something who could talk was considered an expert on the Internet,” he joked. “It did give me a lot of experience in front of people, explaining things and answering questions.” He will join Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Washington, D.C., after law school.
Stavers compared the experience of the Moot Court competition to a rollercoaster ride.
“I learned I like doing this. I like writing briefs—I’d rather get paid for it—oh, we did get paid for it,” he cracked.
Riemenschneider, who will work in intellectual property litigation at law firm Arnold & Porter after her clerkship, said the competition cemented her decision to pursue litigation over transactional law. But the biggest challenge for her came in the final round.
“I was totally behind my position in the semifinal round, emotionally and legally, so having to switch for the final round was a true test for me to see if I could do it, because I didn’t have my heart in the government’s side,” she said.
“One thing I learned is you really have to keep an open mind about issues, because it’s amazing how your perception of your position changes as you dig deeper into the law,” Stavers said. “It should teach you to have an open mind to different people’s point of view and to not assume your first or second impressions about something are at all correct.”
• Reported by m. Wood