November 05, 2008

SIUC to host health law moot court competition

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Over the previous 16 years, the Southern Illinois University School of Law’s annual National Health Law Moot Court Competition has evolved into one of the nation’s foremost events.

Students representing 25 law schools and some of the top collegiate legal minds in the nation gather this week in Carbondale for the 17th annual competition. The event is Friday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 8, in SIUC’s Hiram H. Lesar Law Building.

Thirty-four teams from 25 law schools meet in the nation’s only health law moot court competition. Preliminary rounds begin at 11 a.m. Friday. Sixteen teams advance to begin Saturday’s competition. The top two teams meet in the finals at 4 p.m. in the law school’s courtroom.

Law professor W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law, recalls the first competition consisted of about 12 teams.

“I think we had 12 teams the first year, and I thought that was a lot of work,” Basanta said with a smile. “It is a very well-established national competition.”

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the moot court finals on Saturday, Nov. 8. Organizers ask that reporters and cameras be unobtrusive and in place before the competition begins at 4 p.m. For more information before the event, contact associate professor Cheryl L. Anderson at 618/453-5634 or professor W. Eugene Basanta at 618/453-8748.

“It’s widely recognized and I think it brings real reputation and credit to the law school and the University,” Basanta said.

The law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy, the School of Medicine’s Department of Medical Humanities, the American College of Legal Medicine, and the American College of Legal Medicine Foundation co-sponsor the event.

“It’s an honor for the law school to host the National Health Law Moot Court Competition,” Dean Peter C. Alexander said. “This year in the faculty hiring process we’ve had several candidates say they traveled to Carbondale because they participated in the moot court competition with teams from their schools.

“The growing popularity of the competition is a testament to our colleagues in the health law and appellate advocacy areas. We are very eager to host this competition again.”

The issue in this year’s fictitious case surrounds a statute that creates a process for a small rural hospital to withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a 72-year-old patient against the wishes of the patient and their family, Basanta said. Family members argue the patient’s constitutional rights are violated because state law is not protecting his procedural due process rights.

The question is whether the members of a hospital’s health care team, against their moral and professional judgment, are compelled to sustain a patient’s biological functions at the family’s direction when there is no indication that such efforts result in the patient improving, Basanta said.

Other components involve the plaintiff’s Orthodox Jewish beliefs, and whether the hospital’s decision is financially motivated due to the expensive care “with no possibility of a positive outcome,” Basanta said.

The fictitious statute models a controversial Texas statute enacted under then-Gov. George W. Bush, Basanta said. There is some litigation regarding Texas’ law, but it has not reached the federal or appellate court levels.

Thaddeus M. Pope, an associate professor and member of the Health Law Institute at Widener University School of Law, drafted the problem, and is a judge in the finals. Pope is a national expert on questions relating to medical futility care, Basanta said.

The teams are comprised of second- and third-year law students. “There is a “very distinct educational value for students,” all who tend to be the very best within their respective law schools, Basanta said.

Students deal with a complex problem, do underlying legal research and develop legal and policy arguments for the side they represent. In oral arguments students “have to know and have a complete command of the facts and arguments on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Accompanying briefs require a high level of legal reasoning and arguments that generally are about 30 pages. In oral arguments, students present the cases in front of sitting judges and practicing attorneys, who provide feedback to students on their strengths and weaknesses, Basanta said.

“It’s one thing to do arguments before classmates, peers, or even a law professor. But to come into a very competitive environment and have practicing attorneys and sitting judges is a great experience for them,” he said.

Teams in the finals will present oral arguments five times in the space of two days. Each team argues each side of the issue in the two preliminary rounds on Friday. In Saturday’s rounds, teams choose the side they represent in arguments by coin flip.

The 16 teams compete at 9:30 a.m., followed by quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m., semifinals at 2 p.m., and finals at 4 p.m.

Teams spend months preparing for the competition, starting casework in early August, Basanta said. An expert panel from the American College of Legal Medicine judges the substance of the legal briefs, and SIU law students score the technical components, including proper style, citations and typographical errors.

SIU School of Law students do not compete, but assist in running the competition. SIU law school students benefit by observing differing oral argument patterns and style, and in learning to run a complex tournament, Basanta said.

The American College of Legal Medicine and the SIUC law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy are providing scholarship money for the top teams and individuals. The ACLM is providing $1,000 for the winning team, $750 for second place and $500 for third place. The best legal brief receives $500. The student making the best oral arguments in the competition receives a $500 scholarship.

In addition, the law school's Center for Health Law and Policy is providing $250 each to the best orator in the preliminary rounds, and $250 to the runner-up best legal brief. The ACLM also will publish the best legal brief in its “Journal of Legal Medicine.”

Teams from South Texas College of Law in Houston were first and third in last year’s competition. Seton Hall School of Law finished second. Both schools return again this year.

Panelists for the final round of competition are Michael P. McCuskey, chief judge, U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois; Ronald A. Guzman, district judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Pope, and Dr. Michael Raskin, president of the American College of Legal Medicine.

Participating law schools are: Albany Law School, Albany, N.Y.; Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York, N.Y.; Boston University School of Law; Chicago-Kent College of Law; Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, Philadelphia; Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta; Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minn.; Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, Ind.; Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis; John Marshall School of Law, Chicago; Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; Northeastern University School of Law, Boston; St. Louis University School of Law; Samford University Cumberland School of Law, Birmingham, Ala.; Seton Hall School of Law, Newark, N.J.; South Texas College of Law, Houston; Suffolk University Law School, Boston; University of Kansas School of Law; University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law; University of Maryland School of Law; University of New Mexico School of Law; University of Oklahoma College of Law; University of Pittsburgh School of Law; and University of Tulsa College of Law.