Students argue Patriot Act in first mock trial

The rights of a man labeled a “domestic terrorist” and the controversial Patriot Act went before the Supreme Court Friday.

At least that was the reality for Phi Alpha Delta members.

This special hearing in Chase Law School’s Moot Court Room was courtesy of the newly formed Pre-Law Fraternity. It was NKU’s first undergraduate mock trial.

Presiding over the hearing were justices Nancy Hancock, a Philosophy professor; Frank Edelen, Jr. of the Political Science Department, a practicing attorney; John Lucas of the History Department, Second Vice Counsel for Union Central Life; and retiring Political Science professor Dennis Sies, who is a Chase graduate.

Their arguments were the culmination of weeks of research, learning, and practice. The students first wrote two amicus curae briefs in teams. Dr. Ramona Brockett, the group’s adviser, provided them legal brief writing classes.

They presented Semi-final arguments on April 4. They then finalized their presentations for Friday’s hearing.

Each of the students participated voluntarily. None of them received academic credit for their work.

Junior Laura Figgins highlighted the preparation that went into the appeal.

“We’ve missed work, met on Sundays. We could not of prepared better for this,” she said.

An aspiring lawyer, she said that the work was definitely well worth all the “real court experience”

The hearing consisted of two groups of four attorneys, with one student arguing twice. The appeals ranged from the act’s violation of the first, sixth, and eight amendments to historical precedents of similar war time laws being held unconstitutional.

The state’s cases ranged from the legitimacy of the law’s definitions and its necessity to the acts deemed criminal.

In appellate court form, the justices directed questions at the counselors and their arguments. The questions contained role-played barbs, clarification, and a great deal of teaching.

Senior Robert Clarke braved the sting of the justices’ queries.

When he alluded to Martin Luther King Jr. in his argument for the state, he met quickly fired questions, ranging from the allusion and its context to points of law.

After the hearing, he said he believed if the Patriot Act had existed earlier, King could and likely would have been charged as a domestic terrorist for his actions. He also said that it was difficult to argue a position with which he didn’t entirely agree.

Senior Danny Howell said he learned much from the confrontations. He said the process taught him to ” hold up and answer questions to stick to the issue and represent John Doe [Howell’s client] and his rights.”

In the end there was no ruling in the matter of the appeal; however, justices gave their take on the law and offered constructive criticism to the students.

Edelen, who served as a sort of chief justice or moderator, said the broadness and vagueness of the law is “sad.”

He also addressed the specifics of case presented.

“If you can’t challenge an act of Congress what good is it to live in the United States,” he said

Brockett and the justices gave this advice to the students:

“Don’t concede…ever.”

Phi Alpha Delta president Raed Shalabi said the trial gave him an appreciation of the intent of the Patriot Act.

“There is clearly only one section that should be revisited,” he said, so that it “unifies rather than divides”.

Senior Nichole McClure was upset at the negligible turnout in the gallery. “Students made a choice and it was their loss,” she said

She said she fully believes in the defense she presented against the Patriot Act, that the act presents a danger, and that it should be recognized.

McClure was the only student to present both the state’s and the appellant’s cases.

Brockett predicts that the mock trial will become the curricular cornerstone of the new Pre-Law minor.

She hopes that it will be preparation for future advocacy at the national level of mock trial competition, to put NKU on the national legal map.

The Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Fraternity is open to students of all majors interested in law.

It offers opportunities like the mock trial, Brockett’s brief writing workshop, and LSAT preparation.

Mock trial participants received awards April 15 at a departmental luncheon.