The Rutgers Law National Trial Team began its 2023-24 season by placing as a semi-finalist in the invitational Peter James Johnson National Civil Rights Trial Competition held during the last weekend of October. The team bested some of the most competitive teams in the country. They were edged out in the semi-final round by Cornell Law, who went on to win the Competition.
This is the first year Rutgers Law has been invited to this annual competition between nationally and regionally teams who are selected to compete based on their record. As such, it is a competition among some of the most competitive trial teams in the country.
The competition involves conducting full trials of a civil rights case. The case this year involved the trial of a suit by the family of an inmate in a correctional facility who had pre-existing medical conditions and was further injured when a guard used physical force to quell a fight among inmates. The inmate suffered broken ribs, a fractured skull and a brain injury. He died within weeks. The suit seeks monetary damages for violation of the inmate's 8th Amendment Right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to properly treat his medical conditions and injuries, and for using excessive force against him. The teams try both sides of the case in successive rounds. Second-year students Christina Little and Brianna Rojas tried the case for the Plaintiff and Makayla Laster and Parker Lewin tried the case for the defense.
The team competed in two preliminary rounds against Fordham Law and Hofstra Law and was among only eight teams to advance to the quarterfinal round. Maykayla and Parker represented the defense in the quarterfinal round against Hofstra. They beat Hofstra and the team advanced to the semi-finals along with Cornell Law, William and Mary Law and American University Law. Christina and Brianna tried the case on behalf of the Plaintiff in the semi-final round against Cornell Law. In advancing to the semi-final round, the team defeated some of the most competitive teams in the nation, including Fordham Law (ranked #6 in Trial Advocacy), South Texas Law (ranked #9 in Trial Advocacy), Syracuse Law (ranked #15 in Trial Advocacy), Hofstra Law, University of Houston Law, University of Buffalo Law, Touro Law, Louisiana State Law, Florida State Law, Pace Law, Emory Law, and Brooklyn Law.
The team's success comes after months of hard work. Since August, students have been developing their trial skills in team practices held four or five times a week, as well as through course work in Evidence and Trial Advocacy. The team is coached by Associate Dean Andrew Rossner and former National Trial team members Jared Hotchkiss '21 and George Morton '22. Gerald H. Baker, Esq. and Judge Alvin Weiss provide support to the team and the Law School’s trial advocacy program.
Third-year law students Paula Echeverria, Livie Ruhl, Elizabeth Weinman, and Melanie Zelikovsky will compete this weekend in the Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition in San Juan. This is the third year Rutgers Law has been invited to this elite invitational, having won the competition in 2021 and placed as a semi-finalist in 2022. This team of four won the 2023 Queens District Attorney Invitational Trial Competition earlier this year.