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High school, law student team win Moot Court event

March 26, 2009

A senior at South Mountain High School who was coached by students at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law won the Inaugural Marshall Brennan Moot Court Competition held at Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law in Philadelphia on March 21-22.

The winner, Ambra Jordan, 18, was one of nine South Mountain students from the school's government and law magnet programs who competed. Seven made it to the quarterfinals, and three reached the semifinals.

The students were coached by three law students, David Chami (3L), and Jillian Tse (1L) and Liana Garcia (3L).

"The law students and I were immensely impressed by the experience," said Kristine Reich, Director of Pro Bono and Community Outreach at the College of Law. "It was spectacular to see the poise that dozens of high school students demonstrated and to watch students recognize their capacity to succeed. This event essentially creates a tangible diversity pipeline to identify youth who may be candidates for entering the legal profession."

The victory was bittersweet, because one of the students preparing to compete, Citlaly Jimenez, was killed a week before the competition when she was hit in a crosswalk by a motorist who ran a red light.

The competition featured 71 high school students from seven U.S. cities, and evolved from the Marshall Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project initiated by professor Jamin Raskin from the American University Washington College of Law. The Literacy Project is aimed at spreading awareness of the U.S. constitution, public responsibility, critical thinking and oral advocacy skills among urban high school students. It is named after former U.S. Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan.

Raskin served as a justice in the Moot Court finals, along with Anita Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and Sayde Ladov, chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

In the Moot Court competition, students presented oral arguments as either the petitioner or respondent in a fictitious case involving a students' constitutional right to wear a T-shirt displaying a Web site to school. The students had created a Web site protesting the government's use of tax dollars to combat drugs, and had printed T-shirts promoting the site, but students who wore the T-shirts to class were suspended because the school district argued that the Web site they promoted had links that encouraged drug use and gang lifestyles. The students believed that their freedom of speech had been violated.

Jordan, presenting on behalf of the students, argued that the speech was political speech and therefore protected, and a three-judge panel of lawyers and law professors agreed that her argument was most compelling.

"It feels great to be recognized as a national winner," Jordan said. "I was pretty confident. I put a lot of time and effort into practicing, and developing my arguments, and I was able to anticipate the questions the judges asked.

"I never let the questions throw me off. Even if I didn't know the answers, I still answered without hesitation, and I think the judges noticed that."

Matthew Smith, an attorney and law magnet teacher at South Mountan, said Jordan performed with maturity.

"In the finals it was so clear that this was one of those moments when Ambra brought out her best," Smith said. "I knew she had presence and she knew the arguments, but standing up to the questioning by the judges, experts in communication law, would have thrown law students off."

South Mountain had two semifinalists, Vanessa Rios and Adalberto Nido, and quarterfinalists were Ruby Gomez; Ana Romo; Jordan Johnson and Asia Dasher. Sophia Warrick and Denise Parada also spoke to an audience of about 150 about how the Marshall-Brennan program has helped them.

In addition to the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, other participating law schools included the University of Pennsylvania Law School, American University Washington College of Law, Rutgers School of Law, the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville, Northeastern School of Law, Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, and Southern University Law Center.

Jordan has been in the law magnet program for four years. She has also been a Teen Court member, a Mock Trial Participant and trained as a peer mediator. She is also a member of the South Mountain Academic Decathlon team.

She has a 4.6 grade point average, and is graduating third in her class in May. She has received scholarships and grants to cover tuition, room and board at Arizona State University, where she plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in Psychology and possibly go to law school.

Jordan said she has overcome a lot of obstacles to succeed in school, and wants others to know that they can succeed, too.

Jordan's parents were divorced when she was 10, and she has not had a relationship with her father since that time. When she was 16, her mother was sent to prison on drug-related charges and she moved in with her sister. She then moved in with the family of her best friend and continues to live there while finishing high school.

Judy Nichols,
(480) 727-7895
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law