Justice Alito presides over FIU moot court finals

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito sat as chief justice for FIU’s 9th annual Moot Court Competition

Even seasoned trial lawyers might find themselves intimidated arguing in front of a Supreme Court justice. At FIU’s 9th annual Moot Court Competition, four College of Law students rose to the challenge.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Judge Rosemary Barkett and Judge Stanley Marcus – both from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals – to preside over the final round of oral argument Jan. 26 at the Rafael Diaz-Balart Hall.

Judge Rosemary Barkett, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Judge Stanley Marcus listen to oral argument by the appellant, Mathew Rogoff

In the fictitious case Ernesto Escobar v. United States, the petitioner appealed his conviction for drug smuggling. Escobar’s appeal argued the government unlawfully gathered evidence using a GPS device. The appeal asserted that there is a “reasonable-expectation-of-privacy” standard.

The FIU case was well timed. Earlier in January, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision that law enforcement officers must obtain a search warrant to attach a GPS unit to a suspect’s car to track him. Although similar to the real case, United States v. Jones, the FIU case dealt exclusively with whether the monitoring of such a device would alone violate the Fourth Amendment when no warrant is first obtained.

The four students, who worked in teams of two, included: Nicolas Greene and Jeremy Chevres arguing for the government and Sherman Davis and Mathew Rogoff arguing for the appellant.

Greene enjoyed sparring with the judges. “It was really an incredible opportunity to stand at the podium before a Supreme Court justice, and surprisingly, more fun than I had anticipated,” said the Florida native. “They definitely would not allow us to simply give a mediocre answer and move on, but really pressed us on each issue.”

“The beast of moot court,” said Chevres, “is that no matter how much you prepare, you go into each round completely blind to what the judges will ask.”

In one exchange, Alito grilled Davis: “Are you saying it’s OK if it’s physical surveillance but not if it’s electronic surveillance?” Davis retorted that the use of GPS tracking in this case involved a degree of intrusion that a reasonable person would not have anticipated thus violating “reasonable-expectation-of-privacy” standard.

“These competitions matter, not only because they give the students experience but because they give them exposure,” said R. Alexander Acosta, dean of the College of Law. “It shows our community and our bench the quality of our students at FIU.”

Third-year law student Derrick Feinman watched the proceedings from the overflow room in the RDB auditorium. “I’m very impressed by our students’ performance,” he said. “They all kept to their points.

“I’m getting to the point in my academic career at FIU that I can see myself in that role – arguing a case like this. It became a lot more real,” said Feinman.

Bryant Sculos and Mark Mayo, graduate students in political science, attended the event together. Mayo said, “I was impressed. I thought it was a unique opportunity to see interaction between students and judges. This is real life.”

Sculos added, “No one is going to ask you harder questions.”

Jesus Arias, who manages the project management office in FIU’s Division of IT, said, “Having a supreme court justice here is an event in itself. I thought the students were extremely skilled, they persevered in their arguments. And the judges seemed to enjoy the give and take with the finalists.”

Jeremy Chevres, Dean Acosta, Justice Alito, Judge Marcus, Judge Barkett and Nicolas Greene at the reception following the mock proceedings.

Justice Alito announced the verdict at a reception following the proceeding. Nick Greene and Jeremy Chevres took home the Championship Trophy. Greene was named Best Orator.

“Everybody did a tremendous job. The quality of these arguments was more than equal to what we consider during our day jobs,” said Justice Alito.