BY DEREK KAUANOE – UH Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law students brought home top awards from a national competition held on February 25 and 26 at Columbia University Law School. Second-year law student Elika Stimpson won 3rd Place in the Best Oralist category. Third-year law students Keani Alapa and Maxwell Kopper won 1st Place in the Best Advocate (formerly Best Overall) category. Jeannin Russo and Mark Jensen argued in the semi-final (“final four”) round, resulting in Hawaiʻi representing one-half of the top four teams at the competition.
The annual moot court competition, sponsored by the National Native American Law Students Association, tests students’ brief-writing and oral advocacy skills. This year, 66 student teams from nearly 30 law schools across the country competed. The competition problem, or fact pattern, was written by Indian law scholar Matthew Fletcher.
Columbia University Law School describes the fact pattern as concerning “the extent of a tribal court’s jurisdiction over a member of another tribe who was arrested following a fight at the tribe’s casino. After being issued several civil citations, he is then subject to civil forfeiture, after drugs were found in his truck. The defendant contends the tribe has no authority to seize his property, and has taken his case to the federal courts.”
“It was an awesome experience to see our Hawaiʻi team members make it to the final oral argument round and then capture first place,” explained Russo, a third-year law student.
Said team captain Alapa, “I’m not surprised Elika Stimpson was recognized as one of the competition’s best oralists. She did very well during practices and was amazing during the competition.” Bill Meheula, a Honolulu attorney who accompanied the team added, “All our students were awesome, everyone did well.”
More than 40 members of Hawaiʻi’s legal community, including law school alumni, practicing attorneys, law school faculty, active and retired state court judges, and active federal court judges, helped prepare the team. Four students also made oral arguments in front of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito when he visited the Law School earlier this year.
The National Native American Law Students Association has sponsored this competition since 1993. The William S. Richardson School of Law first participated in the competition in 1997. Between 1997 and 2011, the Law School has earned a total of 23 awards in this competition.