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Sotomayor Presides Over McBaine Finals before a Packed Audience

By Andrew Cohen

Before an enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000 spectators packed inside Zellerbach Hall Wednesday night, Thomas Frampton ’12 won Berkeley Law’s annual James Patterson McBaine Honors Moot Court Competition.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of three judges presiding over the final round, revealed that Frampton won by a “thin, thin slice” over runner-up Edward Piper ’12. “I do moot courts because every once in a while I need an injection of hope,” Sotomayor said after the hour-long argument. “When I see performances like the ones you gave today, I have so much hope for our profession.”

Open to second- and third-year Berkeley Law students, the McBaine Competition is modeled after U.S. Supreme Court practice, with competitors preparing an appellate brief and an oral argument.

Frampton and Piper argued the real-life case of Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, in which a school principal prevented Donna Busch, the mother of a kindergarten student, from reading a Bible passage during a show-and-tell exercise. Piper represented Busch while Frampton represented the school district.

Sotomayor and her fellow judges—U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge and Boalt lecturer William Fletcher and California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan—fired a series of challenging, pointed questions at both participants during their oral arguments. Frampton and Piper each remained poised and engaging throughout. 

“Moot court isn’t easy,” Sotomayor told the audience shortly before rending the panel’s verdict. “It’s nerve-wracking and scary, and preparation is what helps you get through it. I was very pleased with the skills that both of you displayed here tonight.”

Wednesday's event was witnessed by the largest Moot Court audience to date. The event was originally scheduled for Wheeler Hall, but was moved due to a high demand for tickets. The overflow crowd included a large number of Berkeley Law students and several high school moot court and mock debate teams. Before the oral arguments began, Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. said he hoped the event would help observers “find inspiration in what the law is about, but also inspiration in what fine lawyering is about.”

Frampton worked as a union organizer in Chicago and Indonesia before law school, and toured in the United States and Europe as a guitarist playing both solo and in punk bands. Piper is co-chair of the Berkeley Law Board of Advocates trial division and also coaches Stanford’s undergraduate mock trial team.

While the judges were deliberating backstage after the arguments concluded, Berkeley Law Professor and Director of Professional Skills David Oppenheimer announced the recent establishment of the Crowell & Moring “Best Brief Award.”

Crowell & Moring created the award—to be given annually to the two students who author the McBaine Competition’s top briefs—with a $125,000 endowment built on donations from Berkeley Law alumni working at the firm. Before the judges returned with their final verdict, Crowell & Moring partner Gregory Call ’85 presented this year’s Best Brief Award to Micah Sucherman ’11 and Colin Hector ’11.

Sotomayor was on campus both Wednesday and Thursday meeting with law students and alumni. She also visited a local elementary school in Berkeley. Justice Stephen Breyer was the last member of the Supreme Court to preside over the Moot Court finals in 2009.

(Photos by Fred Mertz)