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Rutgers Law National Trial Team Wins ABA Employment Competition

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From left to right, Matt Capone, Steve Tegrar, Melissa Taustine, Immanuel Adeola and Dean Andrew Rossner.

The Rutgers Law School National Trial Team took first place in the New York Regionals of the American Bar Association’s National Trial Advocacy Competition held on November 19-20 at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan.   This is the first year the Rutgers Moot Court Board National Team participated in this competition, sponsored by the ABA Section on Labor and Employment Law.

The team of Immanuel Adeola, Matthew Capone, Melissa Taustine, and Steven Tegrar came out on top in a field of 16 schools, and defeating teams from Fordham Law and Brooklyn Law, earning a place in a final national round in New Orleans in January.

“Rutgers Law should be proud of the team's success.  Their representation of Rutgers Law has been exceptional, not only by demonstrating extraordinary trial advocacy skills, but also exhibiting the utmost professionalism,” said Associate Dean Andrew Rossner, who is the team’s coach and faculty advisor to the Moot Court Board.  “Their success is not only an individual achievement; it is an outgrowth of the upgrading of our Moot Court Board advocacy program over the past four years.”  

"This weekend was a wonderful opportunity for our trial team to gain experience and to represent Rutgers Law to the best of our ability,” said Tegrar. “I am tremendously proud of our team and the countless hours spent in preparation for this competition, including Sunday practices. The time and effort that our team has put in paid off this weekend as our team demonstrated an impressive understanding of the Federal Rules of Evidence and trial presentation skills.”

According to Rossner, the team conducted full trials in their preliminary round on Saturday, winning those rounds and being one of the four teams that advanced to the semi-final round.   The team won its trial in the semifinal round against Fordham, advancing to the final round.  The final round trial, between the Rutgers team and Brooklyn Law, was before Judge Andrew Peck, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York on Sunday afternoon.

The Rutgers National Team beat Brooklyn, winning first place, thus becoming the New York Regional team to earn a place in the National Rounds in New Orleans in January.   The team came out on top in a field of 16 area law schools.  The judges noted our team members' exceptional advocacy skills, mastery of evidence, preparation, creativity and professionalism.

Students argued a case involving a transit authority train operator who claimed a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because his employer would not allow him to bring a service dog to work with him, though he allegedly had PTSD. The team had to argue both sides of the case during the competition.

"I offer my heartiest congratulations to the Rutgers Law School National Trial Team, their performance was exemplary in this past weekend's competition,” said Rutgers Law School Co-dean Ronald K. Chen. I am especially proud because it is the first time our National Team participated in this particular competition, which focused on labor and employment law.  Their hard work and preparation paid off and I wish them future success in the nationals in January."

The Moot Court Board’s National Team is selected through a competitive process each spring.  Second year students who are selected for the team enroll in an intensive program to develop trial advocacy and evidence skills, including coordinated classes on Evidence and Trial Advocacy.  In addition to the classes, the team members practice several times a week, receiving indivualized feedback from faculty and trial attorneys from the bar who volunteer their time.   “The enhanced training program allows the students to develop keen trial advocacy skills and master the use of the rules of evidence at trial,” said Rossner.  “Rutgers team members gain skills and confidence that enable them not only to prepare and present a persuasive case theory and the evidence to support it, but also to deal with the exigencies that inevitably arise at trial.  I am convinced that it is the latter skill that distinguished our team from the other excellent field of teams at the competition.” 

The National Trial team had practice support from the Rutgers Moot Court Board, alumni and practicing attorneys from the bar and the NJ Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association [NELA].   “We are so thankful for the bar’s support of the team.  Attorneys Rutherford Livengood and NELA members, Brian Curley and Evan Goldman were generous with their time and provided invaluable guidance to our team as they prepared for the competition,” said Rossner.  “As our Moot Court Board program has grown to provide more opportunities for students to compete in mock trial, appellate moot court and other types of competitions, we have found wonderful support from members of the bar with specialized expertise and an interest in helping our students grow as lawyers.”

“We worked really hard to prepare and we are beyond thrilled to have won, said team member Melissa Taustine. “ In this instance, I really believe it was as much about our preparation as it was about our attitude walking into the competition. We were . . . just wanting to have fun, get some practice and enhance our skill. We didn't have prepared scripts so we were able to adapt and change our tactics in each trial.”

Capone added, “Adaptability and an unconventional approach to both the problem and our general presentation won us the support of the jurors and ultimately the competition.”

Tegrar said, “Being accepted onto, and part of, the national trial team has been one of the most rewarding experiences of law school thus far. I am very grateful to work with such a talented group in a field of law that I find so enjoyable and exciting, trial advocacy. Our team looks forward to competing in the next round of the competition in New Orleans with the hope of bringing a national championship home to Rutgers."