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UND students plead mock trial in front of North Dakota Supreme Court

The North Dakota Supreme Court justices give advice and feedback to the four UND law students who argued a made-up case for the moot court competition Tuesday. (Photo by Anna Burleson/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 3
North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Daniel Crothers asked several complicated questions of the UND law students at a mock trial Tuesday. (Photo by Anna Burleson/Grand Forks Herald)2 / 3
Amanda Tucker represented the U.S. Government in a mock trial at UND's school of Law Tuesday, where she presented her side of the case to the North Dakota Supreme Court. (Photo by Anna Burleson/Grand Forks Herald)3 / 3

North Dakota Supreme Court justices didn't hold back when four UND School of Law students argued a case in a mock trial Tuesday.

"So you're arguing if you're entitled to have access to information, you're entitled to anything you want with it?" Justice Dale Sandstrom interjected early in the presentation.

It didn't get any easier, but UND Law School Dean Kathryn Rand said arguing in front of a high court gives students an unparalleled experience.

"They treat the students just like they treat real attorneys, so it really is a fantastic educational experience for students," she said.

The annual mock trial, known as moot court, is important for law school students because the frontrunners are vying to compete nationally. UND Moot Court Board President Ariana Meyers said about 100 judges saw 14 teams compete this year, whittling the competition down to the two teams arguing Tuesday.

"A big goal of ours is to rank this year as a law school nationally, so we want to select the absolute best," she said.

The finalists in Tuesday's fake trial were James Crossman and Brandt Doerr on the side of the petitioner and Amanda Tucker and Samantha Olson on the side of the respondent.

The day before she argued her case, Olson said she was excited but terrified.

"I'm rereading cases trying to anticipate off-the-wall questions they'll ask to try to throw me off," she said.

Doerr said he and Crossman also ran through what they thought the judges might ask.

"The best case scenario is to have it take the form of a conversation between the attorney and the judges," he said.

The Supreme Court justices were in Grand Forks hearing real cases as well. In previous years, they had heard the moot court trial, though they didn't attend last year due to Law School building renovations.

"Not all law schools have this kind of relationship with their state's highest court," Rand said. "We're very privileged the Supreme Court makes the time to travel here each year."

The case

The students argued a mock case of a vice principal appealing his conviction of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Justice Daniel Crothers said it was a very intricate case.

After a student's locker was vandalized with statements insulting her sexual orientation in the fake scenario, a vice principal showed video evidence of the incident to the principal of the school proving football players were responsible for the deed. The principal waited one week to make a decision while the players in question played in and won a semifinal game.

The vice principal downloaded video evidence, posted it to a social media site, deleted the video from his own computer and then left the country. Upon returning, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement randomly selected his laptop for closer examination, and after an agent recognized the video, the vice principal was charged.

The vice principal tried to suppress the evidence obtained from the laptop, saying the search was unconstitutional, but the effort was denied and he was convicted.

The judges peppered the students with questions about legal precedents and the details of the case as they each argued their side.

While the judges don't make an actual ruling, the Moot Court Board named Crossman and Doerr the winners.

Afterward, Justice Carol Kapsner commended the students on their presentation, articulation and body language while speaking. Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle echoed those statements, adding the student performed well.

"We were really hitting you pretty hard," Crothers added. "When that happens, you need to keep in mind, answer the question ... but try and answer it and then get back to your argument."

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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