Sustained Success: Armstrong's moot court program tackles tough issues, develops professional skills

 

Armstrong State University has the longest running university moot court program in Georgia, and is only one of two programs in the entire state. For nine years, associate professor of criminal justice Becky da Cruz has been at the helm coaching the award-winning program.

At the National Championship Tournament of the American Collegiate Moot Court Association at Florida International University in Miami, Armstrong’s team brought home first place in the oral advocacy competition in 2007, and in 2010, they won first place in the appellate brief competition. Recently, the team placed in the top 20 percent at the South East Regional Tournament at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and will advance to the nationals in January.

“This year, the students had to take on an abortion case that required extensive knowledge of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” explained da Cruz.

While the trials are fake, the issues are certainly real. Moot court is an extracurricular activity where students take part in simulated court proceedings. Armstrong’s team acts as if they are arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in the appeal of a trial court decision.

“For those who did debate club or mock trial in high school, moot court is the next step up,” she explains.

The American Colleigate Moot Court Association assigns each team the case they will argue at the regional competition, and then teams must also present an oral argument and written appellate brief.

“They can only use cases designated for their constitutional issue, so it’s really all about how well they can structure an argument for the judges to rule in their favor,” she says.

As the success of Armstrong’s moot court team grows, da Cruz has worked to expand the success of the program. With now 17 students strong, the team now has a more professional practice space in the Aquatic Recreation Center.

“The moot court room has a three-judges bench, just like an appellate court,” she says. “It gives the students a better feeling of what it will be like to argue a case at competition.”

The HunterMaclean Law Firm in Savannah has generously provided all of the funding for Armstrong’s moot court team.

She has also worked diligently to expand moot court participation in the region by contacting Georgia Southern University and Savannah State University in order to organize moot court intramural tournaments to better help Armstrong’s team prepare for competition. She has also recruited the University of Louisville to compete in the tournament.

According to da Cruz, a student doesn’t have to pursue a career in political science, criminal justice or law in order to participate in moot court. The skills gained from this experience are applicable in all majors and all professional careers.

“Moot court will teach you to speak confidently and clearly in public, write more clearly and precisely, and overall will help you become a well-rounded student and future professional,” she says.