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Outstanding first-year advocates featured in annual Thad T. Hutcheson Moot Court Competition

The Law School hosted the final round of the 2013 Thad T. Hutcheson 1L Moot Court Competition on April 15, 2013, in the Eidman Courtroom. Finalists Steven Ort and Chandler Raine argued before a venerable panel of jurists including U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel; Justice Patricia Alvarez of Texas’s Fourth Court of Appeals; Justice Scott Field of Texas’s Third Court of Appeals; Professor Jennifer Laurin of the Law School; and Thomas T. Hutcheson, a Winstead PC shareholder and son of the lawyer for whom the competition is named. In a split decision, Steven Ort emerged as the champion.

This year’s moot court problem, tackled by all first-year students this year in their spring legal writing course, involved an issue that would be one of first impression for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to which students addressed their moot briefs. The issue was whether the statutory definition of “employer” in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) permits pursuing individual-capacity lawsuits against public-agency supervisors, not just their private-sector counterparts, for willful FMLA violations. The Court was asked to decide an issue on appeal from the District Court of Maryland, which is itself split, as are the Circuit Courts that have entertained this issue. The problem required students to analyze subtle differences between definitions found in both the Fair Labor Standards Act and the FMLA and to situate a dry issue of statutory construction in its larger social context. The problem was designed primarily by Professor Kamela Bridges of the David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy, which hosts the Law School’s legal research and writing program.

The Hutcheson Competition was established in 1987 through an endowment created by a law firm with which Tom Hutcheson was then affiliated, Hutcheson & Grundy, and is named after his father, another esteemed alumnus. Sixty-four members of the 1L class compete to participate in this single-elimination tournament each year. This year’s champion, Steven Ort, earned a master’s degree in accounting at Seton Hall University in New York before moving to Austin for law school. The finalist, Chandler Raine, attended Howard Payne University, majoring in political science and academic studies. “In an unusual twist, the two finalists are roommates, a condition that added to the collegiality of this annual sporting event,” said Gretchen Sween, director of interscholastic moot court for the Beck Center. “What impressed me the most was how Chandler handled the judges’ questions,” noted Professor Elana Einhorn, who taught brief-writing and oral advocacy to finalist Chandler Raine. “I knew he would be prepared. I didn’t know he would handle each question with the level of grace and patience one expects from the most accomplished advocates.” Professor Natalia Blinkova, who taught Steven Ort, added, “Steven and Chandler worked together and learned from each other every step of the way. Their dedication—to the competition and to each other—was inspiring to watch.”

Other students making notable showings in this year’s competition include: semifinalists Matt Buongiorno and Jordan Hahn; and quarterfinalists Lindsay Dofelmier, Ellen Herman, Nikki Lockhart, and Ewaen Woghiren. Erin Gaines, ’13, and Brad Estes, ’14, served as research assistants supporting Professor Wayne Schiess, the competition director.

Each year the competition’s success depends on the generous contributions of many alumnae, local attorneys, and judges who volunteer their time to judge oral argument rounds. This year, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP provided judges for the first, second, and octofinal rounds. The Law School’s legal writing faculty vets the original moot court problem and administers the competition. Those faculty members include: Director Wayne Schiess; Robin Meyer, ’88; Kamela Bridges, ’91; Beth Youngdale, ’92; Sean Petrie; Elana Einhorn, ’89; Stacy Rogers Sharp, ’06; Gretchen Sween, ’03; and Natalia Blinkova. Several of these faculty members participated in this same first-year moot court competition when they were students. In their respective years, Einhorn and Sween were both “best brief” winners, Meyer was a finalist, and Sween was a champion. “One pleasure associated with teaching 1L legal writing,” Meyer reflected, “is seeing tradition live on and evolve through this competition.”

Contact: Wayne Schiess, wschiess@law.utexas.edu

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