The gallery of Fordham Law’s Moot Court was packed on July 12, as students took to podiums to compete in the final round of the William Hughes Mulligan Memorial Moot Court Competition.

The intra-school competition, which is held every summer to determine the members of the Moot Court Board for the following year, began with 190 entries in preliminary rounds.

On Thursday, it was down to four finalists: Ilene Goodman, Jared Kasner, Aviva Nusbaum and Christopher Rigali. Nusbaum and Kasner were tasked with arguing on behalf of a fictional character named Louis Hill, while Goodman and Rigali argued on behalf of the United States government.

Fordham law student Christopher Rigali argues his point on Thursday, July 12. Photo by Chris Taggart

While the gathering of friends and family behind the finalists was impressive, the only audience that really concerned them was the six-judge panel at the front of the courtroom. It was staffed by sitting federal court judges Denny Chin, LAW ‘78, Kevin T. Duffy, FCRH ’54, LAW ’58,  John F. Keenan, LAW ’54, Henry Pitman, FCRH ’75, LAW ’78, Loretta A. Preska, LAW ’73 and Richard Sullivan.

The case being argued centered on evidence collected by FBI agents that proved that a schoolteacher was manufacturing methamphetamine. The evidence was collected via an application on the suspects’ non-password-protected cell phone that activated a video feed to his basement. Since agents didn’t obtain a search warrant for the house, Nusbaum and Kasner argued that his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches had been violated.

The discussion, which was punctuated by frequent interruptions as judges peppered students with questions about previous cases, centered on whether there should be an exception to the exclusionary rule barring the use at trial of evidence obtained during an unlawful search and seizure.

The rule states that if officers have a reasonable, good-faith belief that they are acting according to legal authority, illegally seized evidence can be admissible.

Rigali, a former marine from Western Massachusetts and a Brown University graduate, won best oralist and shared the award for best brief with Matthew Fenn. He admitted to being nervous about being the last one to argue, noting that Nusbaum and Goodman had really impressed him in the semi-finals.

Justices John F. Keenan, Loretta A. Preska and Denny Chin listen to a Fordham student making his case. Photo by Chris Taggart

“I’m pretty ecstatic. I’m really happy for my partner Matt Fenn as well, who did an outstanding job on the brief, and I was intimidated to say the least about my co-competitors,” he said.

“It’s a little distracting when you hear everyone elses argument. It takes your mind off what you need to be thinking about, so while everyone else is arguing, I pretty much forgot everything I had prepared for, so that’s nerve-racking. But once you start speaking, it just kind of comes back to you.”

For Chin, a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, serving on Moot Court is an annual event that that he has made time for since he became a judge 18 years ago.

“It’s a lot of fun, it’s a great way to have some contact with students, and the training is important. It adds a lot to the process to have real judges who have done this before,” he said.

He said the case that was argued was similar to those he deals with in his courtroom, because there are often motions to suppress evidence in criminal cases, and judges often have to deal with advances in technology and adapting the law.

“It’s very realistic in terms of what students might expect in the court of appeals, in front of the second circuit. The ferocity of the questions is pretty close to what you see in real life,” he said.

“Some of us might think of a question or two in advance, but a lot of is it reacting to what the students are saying and how they’re saying it.”