Members of the UC Santa Barbara Moot Court team reflected on a year of successes, including winning the 2022-23 American Moot Court Association National Tournament, securing its third consecutive national championship in the brief writing competition and placing third in the oral advocacy tournament.

Members of UCSB Moot Court celebrate their wins at the 2022-23 American Moot Court Association National Tournament. Courtesy of Moot Court

Moot court is an oral advocacy competition that imitates how arguments proceed in appellate courts, similar to mock trial’s simulation of criminal trials. The UCSB team currently has 18 members. 

The team of twelve UCSB students traveled to Louisiana State University from Jan. 14-15 to compete in the oral component of the American Moot Court Association (AMCA) National Tournament.

There are two aspects to the national competition — oral advocacy, where students work in pairs to argue constitutional issues in front of judges, and brief writing, where students write a formal legal brief detailing those same arguments — according to third-year political science major Sean Ignatuk.

This year’s fictional case surrounded a 15-year old who was filmed committing assault by a police drone and received an atypically long prison sentence, Ignatuk said. In the brief-writing competition, fourth-year computing major Faiz Surani and third-year history major Joshua Cenzano placed first in the nation.

Surani, who founded the club in 2019, earned his third straight victory in brief writing, making him the first person to accomplish the feat in American Moot Court Association History. Surani is graduating this June, making this brief writing competition his last at UCSB.

“I am proud to have put UCSB Moot Court on the map with our victories,” Surani said. “To be able to experience the whole journey with these people I am lucky to call my teammates and friends has meant the most to me.”

Ignatuk and third-year history of public policy and law major Gina Kim — moot court team’s co-captains and the highest placing pair of the group — advanced to semifinals in the tournament and earned third place. In their argument, Kim discussed the Fourth Amendment, claiming that the use of the drone infringed on the 15-year old’s right to privacy. Ignatuk’s focus surrounded the Eighth Amendment, explaining how the prison sentence could fall under the umbrella of cruel and unusual punishment.

Ignatuk commended his team members on their skills and credited the teams’ victories to their collective efforts.

“​​Everyone on our team is incredibly gifted. They’re all very intelligent people, and they all have tremendous abilities,” Ignatuk said. “Gina and I only got as far as we did because of the support from them. We all work together for the entire season, and we build each other up.”

Ignatuk said that even though the team experienced a number of individual and group victories this season, they prioritized individual skill development over specific placements in the competition.

“This year, our priority wasn’t winning, oddly enough. Our priority was being as good as we could be,” Ignatuk said. “​​We’re just trying to be better fake lawyers, in a sense. And by recognizing that it’s low stakes — this isn’t ‘real’ — by recognizing that it is just a playground for us to explore our intellectual ideas and to try out new things in public speaking, you get these amazing results.”

Unlike many teams they face in competition, which are supported by professors and lawyers, the moot court team is almost entirely run by students, according to Cenzano.

“We’re a young program, we’re student run, we were founded in 2019 and we did better than a lot of teams that have been around for 20, 30 years that are run by professors. So we’re very proud,” Cenzano said.

The team has experienced a steady increase in membership since its founding, growing from 12 to 18 members this past year, according to Cenzano. The group hopes to attract more members for the next academic year after this year’s accomplishments.

“​​We have S.T.E.M. majors in our club,” Cenzano said. “Public speaking skills, the ability to answer questions under pressure — these are skills that we work on and are applicable to almost anything.”

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