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Camden Teens Shine in National Moot Court Competition
Coached by Rutgers-Camden Marshall-Brennan Fellows
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 empowering young 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 individual rights.
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