College of Law Students Place in Top Three in National Environmental Moot Court Competition

Megan Anderson, Jason Groenewold, and Ben Machlis of the S.J. Quinney College of Law reached the finals of the 21st Annual National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition that was held on February 19-21, 2009 at Pace Law School, New York. This placed them in the top 3 teams out of 68 schools from around the country.

The team was coached by Robert Adler, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and James I. Farr Chair in Law at the College of Law, and Quinney alumnus Katie Lewis, who was on the team two years ago and is now an attorney at Parsons Behle & Latimer. According to Adler, “they were truly spectacular throughout, and lost in the finals to a superb team from Lewis and Clark in what everyone in the room thought was a virtual dead heat.” Adler also gave credit to the many members of the faculty and local bar who helped to prepare the team by judging practice rounds and peppering the team with “harder questions than they faced at the competition.”

“Since 1989, student advocates from across the United States and Canada have participated in the Competition. The moot draws in excess of 200 competitors from diverse law schools and 200 attorneys who serve as judges for three days of oral arguments, to create a rigorous academic experience,” as noted on its website.

“I can’t say enough about the brilliance of my teammates, Ben Machlis and Jason Groenewold,” said Megan Anderson.”The team put together five amazing argument rounds to get to the finals. We also couldn’t have made it to the finals without the support and dedication of our coaches. We all put in an enormous amount of work in preparation for this competition beginning back in November and it certainly paid off!”

The Competition “tests skills in appellate brief writing and oral advocacy involving issues drawn from a real case providing experience in environmental litigation first hand.” This year’s problem was that of an early 18th century Spanish shipwreck off the coast of the U.S. in the Gulf of Mexico. The remains of the ship and its cargo were within and without the national marine sanctuary. A salvage ship had entered the waters in a recovery effort and drilled through an endangered species of coral and seagrass violating a number of environmental statutes. Described as “Pirates of the Caribbean meets Environmental Law” by one team’s coach, the problem involved a multi-party legal hoopla: an exploration company seeking title to the wreck, the U.S. claiming permits were required for the salvage, and the Kingdom of Spain also seeking title to the wreck.

The final round was judged by the Honorable William K. Sessions III, Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont; the Honorable Charles J. Sheehan, Judge, Environmental Appeals Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and Gary Nurkin, Attorney, US EPA Region2.