CAMDEN — Six Camden
teenagers, working under the tutelage of Rutgers–Camden law students, recently
showcased their knowledge of the U.S. constitution during a national moot court
competition in Washington, D.C.
Competing against other high school teams coached by law students
from Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and the College of William and Mary,
among others, the students presented their oral advocacy skills at the National
Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition, held March 30 to April 1 at the
American University Washington College of Law.
Byron Guevara, a senior at Camden Catholic High School,
was named “best petitioner,” the competition’s top award.
“I’ve always had an interest in law,” says Guevara, 17, who
came to America from the Dominican Republic when he was in eighth grade. “It’s
something that I’m passionate about. The Marshall-Brennan Program challenges me
and offers me an opportunity that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”
Guevara is one of 25 Camden high school students who
this year are participating in Rutgers–Camden’s Marshall-Brennan Moot Court
Pre-Law Club, part of a larger constitutional literacy initiative that also
places law students in classrooms to teach a full course on the Bill of Rights.
In addition to Guevara, other high school students who
participated in the moot court competition are: La Tina T. Gaines (Brimm
Medical Arts High School), Faith Kroma (Urban Promise Academy), Elisabel Laluz
(LEAP Academy University Charter School), Malcolm Ortis (Camden High School),
and David Tran (Camden Catholic High School). Rashon Bennett (Camden High
School) and Bryan Sorto (Brimm Medical Arts High School) attended the competition and served as alternates.
The program engages law students in empow
people to become effective citizens in a democracy through an understanding of
their rights and responsibilities under the United States constitution.
Each year, Rutgers–Camden law students, known as Marshall-Brennan fellows,
teach constitutional law at participating Camden City high schools.
Additionally, as an extracurricular activity, the future lawyers coach high school
students in delivering oral arguments based on a constitutional law problem.
Participating students learn to read briefs, formulate arguments,
cite relevant legal precedent and argue their positions to judges.
Participation in the moot court competition helps students to
develop vital skills for academic success and college preparation. Those skills
include oral and written communication, higher level analytical thinking, study
skills, and professionalism.
“This program is so important because it transforms Camden’s
youth into citizens who believe in themselves and exhibit confidence to succeed
in all walks of life,” says Danielle Sgro, a third-year Rutgers–Camden law
student from Collingswood.
Sgro served as a Marshall-Brennan fellow in 2010-11 and
then was selected as a Rutgers–Camden Michael Young Scholar (teaching assistant)
and directed the 2011-12 moot court competition.
“Camden youth are underestimated and this program is a
prime example of how they excel each and every day,” she says.
After a local moot court competition, the six Camden
high school students were selected among 25 others in the Marshall-Brennan Pre-Law
Club program to participate at the national competition in Washington, D.C. They
argued a fictional case challenging juvenile life imprisonment without parole
under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.
“As Marshall-Brennan fellows, we have the privilege of
empowering these students in a meaningful way that develops skills that will
prepare them for college and the professional world,” says Austin Edwards, a
third-year law student at Rutgers–Camden who serves as a Michael Young teaching
assistant for the program this year. “More importantly, we get to watch our
students develop confidence in their own abilities.”
Jill Friedman, a professor and director of pro bono and public
interest programs at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden and director of the
Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project, says she anticipates that the
fellowship will be part of the foundation for lifelong pro bono service by law
students at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden.
“Not only do the children of Camden benefit from superb
instruction from well-trained law students, but the law students, too, see
firsthand the power and gratification of using their legal skills and knowledge
for the public good,” Friedman says.
Participating Camden high schools include Brimm Medical Arts,
Camden Catholic High School, Camden High School, Christus Lutheran Academy,
LEAP Academy University Charter School, MetEast High School, Urban Promise
Academy, and Woodrow Wilson High School.
The Marshall-Brennan Program is named for Thurgood Marshall and
William J. Brennan Jr., two U.S. Supreme Court justices who championed
The Rutgers School of Law–Camden provides a range of programs
designed to increase the diversity and improve the qualifications of
underrepresented minority students who may want to enter the legal profession.
These programs include the New Jersey State Bar Foundation funded
Street Law Pro Bono Project, the Summer Law Institute, and the Law School
Admission Council Discoverlaw.org Pre-law Undergraduate Scholars Program, a
residential immersion in the law that will be inaugurated in June 2012.
Media Contact: Ed Moorhouse