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MOOT COURT PREPARES STUDENTS FOR THE REAL THING

Students in Tim McKee's "Legal Environment of Accounting" class finally got their day in court. The class played the roles of prosecution, defense and jury in front of Judge Robert Carter in Chesapeake General District Court during a moot court project late in the spring semester.

"I thought this exercise was more fun and more rewarding than just another paper," said student Rick Dwight, who delivered the petitioner's argument.

The case involved a convicted drug dealer who appealed the decision on the grounds of unlawful search and seizure and due process of law. Six students acted as the attorneys - three on each side - while the remaining 15 acted as jury.

According to McKee, professor of accounting and a lawyer, the course is designed to prepare students for the law portions of the CPA exam and provide them with a foundation of business law. The moot court experience gives them a better understanding of the legal system in action, he said.

At the beginning of the course, which McKee has been teaching for more than 13 years, six students are asked to volunteer as lawyers. One team then selects which case is argued, while the other team decides which side it wants to represent. The teams have about six weeks to form their cases.

"The preparation for the case was exhausting," said Alphonso Garcia, who gave the closing arguments for the prosecution. "You tend to over-prepare because you do not know what the other side is going to argue."

The students made their cases in a real courtroom in Chesapeake General District Court before Judge Carter, a 1961 Old Dominion graduate with a bachelor's degree in - what else - accounting. He's been presiding over McKee's moot courts for nearly five years.

"It's nice to see the students come out and speak in a formal environment," said Carter, who added that each side's case was very effective.

Following 45 minutes of legal arguments, Carter instructed the jury on deliberations and noted that, while an appeals court does not have a jury, "tonight it will."

Despite their weeks of preparation, the inexperienced lawyers admitted being nervous.

"It is one thing to prepare for the unexpected, but once you start talking and realize that this is a real courtroom with a real judge sitting on the bench, your emotions take over," said Garcia.

"I was honestly a little intimidated, being in a real courtroom," said Joseph Suhoski, who gave the opening arguments for the defense. "When I started to give my argument and made eye contact with the jury, I became nervous. I've never had to formally argue a case like that before."

That is just one of several lessons McKee wants the students to learn from the moot court project. "in real business, one almost always had to do a presentation."

Another is that law doesn"t always equal justice. To emphasize this point, McKee tells his students about a judge who noted, "This is not a court of justice, but a court of law. We are in pursuit of justice, but we do not always achieve that end."

McKee elaborates, "In most every law case both parties feel they are right, but only one can win. I think students need to know this. Just because they are certain they are right and that justice is on their side does not mean they will win in a court of law. This applies to business cases as well as criminal cases."

Justice may or may not have prevailed in the moot court, but the jury decided 11-1 in favor of the prosecution.

This article was posted on: April 6, 2001

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