November 04, 2009

Law school hosts health law court competition

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- As one of the nation’s notable moot court events, winning the Southern Illinois University School of Law’s annual National Health Law Moot Court Competition is a significant achievement.

But the two-day event’s primary focus remains providing law students the opportunity to enhance their written and oral appellate advocacy skills while addressing legal aspects involved with some of the nation’s daunting health care issues.

The 18th annual competition is Friday, Nov. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 7, in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. Students representing 22 law schools will participate this year. More information on the event is available at

The 28 teams from 22 schools will 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 courtroom.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the moot court finals on Saturday, Nov. 7. 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.

W. Eugene Basanta, the Southern Illinois Healthcare Professor of Law, said students who participate in the event receive the benefit of expert feedback from judges, attorneys and law professors.

“It’s one of the more significant parts of the education experience that students get to argue in front of three or four practicing attorneys or sitting judges, and then get feedback from them about their presentation, their skill, and the logic of their arguments,” he said. “That’s invaluable for students to receive that kind of immediate, substantive feedback.”

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.

“The National Health Law Moot Court Competition is always one of the highlights of the fall semester for the entire law school community,” interim Dean Frank G. Houdek said. “In addition to offering a unique opportunity to learn about what is inevitably a fascinating and complex health law issue, the competition introduces a large contingent of law students and faculty members from law schools around the country to the SIU School of Law and Southern Illinois region. It gives us a great opportunity to show off the riches that both have to offer.

“We are especially pleased to have such distinguished jurists and members of the health law bar serve as judges for the competition. Their willingness to do so is a tribute to the stature of both the event and the law school’s Center for Health Law and Policy, which co-sponsors the competition,” he said.

Medical deportation and whether a university medical center violated the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act in connection with the care of an illegal immigrant is the focus of this year’s competition.

In the fictitious case, a drunk driver seriously injured a woman who initially came to the United States on a visitor visa as a mail-order bride. The woman, whose visa expired, was admitted to the medical center with a serious brain injury. She never married, and the man whom initially brought her to the United States deserted the woman because of her injuries and mounting medical costs -- $250,000 in the first three weeks.

The woman’s legal guardian is a distant cousin who is a U.S. citizen. With a likelihood that Medicaid will not reimburse non-emergency room expenses, the medical center contacts an air ambulance firm to return the woman to her home country and finds a care facility to accept the woman as a patient. The woman’s country is a developing nation and supplies less-than-adequate basic health care, according to the World Health Organization.

The woman’s cousin is petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the hospital from deporting the woman to her home country and force the medical center to continue with uncompensated care.

The health care of illegal immigrants and medical deportations are issues that hospitals face, Basanta said.

“It’s a huge issue for hospitals,” Basanta said. “That is why we wanted to do this kind of problem this year. Hospitals have an obligation to take care of patients who come seeking care, yet for illegal immigrants, other than emergency care, Medicaid will not pay for ongoing care.”

Basanta sees a potential increase in medical deportation issues.

“The amount of illegal immigration is still very very high, and there doesn’t seem to be much sentiment to pay for health care for illegal immigrants,” he said. “But there is also no sentiment to say to hospitals they don’t have to take care of people. If an illegal immigrant comes to the door you can’t just say, ‘sorry, we don’t want to care for you.’

“The question is how do we pay for that or do we just burden hospitals with that responsibility,” he said. “For hospital administrators it can be a significant problem when you combine it with all the other uncompensated care and burdens placed upon a hospital.”

Jennifer Smith, an associate professor at Florida A&M University College of Law, drafted the problem, and is a judge in the finals. Smith has published a lot of research and writing on medical deportation.

Teams are comprised of second- and third-year students. Students begin casework on briefs in August, focusing on underlying legal research and developing the legal and policy arguments. While submitted competition briefs are on one side of the issue, students must be able to argue both sides of the issue.

An expert panel from the American College of Legal Medicine judges the substance of the legal briefs, and SIUC law students score technical components, including proper style, citations and typographical errors. Briefs comprise 40 percent of the team’s score, with 60 percent for oral arguments, Basanta said.

Teams in the final 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 by coin flip.

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

SIU School of Law students do not compete, but manage the competition.

“They have a lot of responsibilities and step up and put on a good program,” 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 provides $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.

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.”

Panelists for Saturday’s final round are Judge Julia Smith Gibbons, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District; Judge David R. Herndon, U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Illinois and a 1977 graduate of the SIU School of Law; Dr. Melvin A. Shiffman, MD/JD, president of the American College of Legal Medicine; and Smith.

Participating law schools are: Boston University School of Law; Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, Montgomery, Ala.; Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta; Hamline University School of Law, St. Paul, Minn.; Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis; Loyola University Chicago School of Law; Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; Marquette University Law School; 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 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 Pittsburg School of Law; University of Tulsa College of Law; Washington & Lee University School of Law, Lexington, Va., and Widener University School of Law, Wilmington, Del.