- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Local high school students defended their "clients" vigorously as oral arguments finished yesterday in a fictional case based on the true-life experiences of D.C. students strip-searched while on a field trip to the city jail last year.
"I was going for the gold," said Chessie Moquete, 17, of Caesar Chavez Public Policy Charter School after two days of arguing constitutional law in moot court, with judges trying to pick apart her brief.
"I got nervous, particularly as the judges started asking harder questions," she said.
The D.C. charter school student got her wish about the gold, however.
A panel of lawyers judging this year's William H. Karchmer "We the Students" High School Moot Court Competition chose her and three other students as the four best "lawyers" to represent local schools in the National High School Moot Competition next week.
Also chosen was Gerald Scott, 16, of Eastern High School; Unique Luna, 15, of School Without Walls; and R. Kayleen Thomas, 18, of Banneker High School.
In the third annual competition, students from 14 local schools were asked to argue both sides of the fictional case, Wright v. Rogers, at American University's Washington College of Law in Northwest in front of judges, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
The classes and the competition are sponsored by the Marshall-Brennan Fellowship Program, which sends law students to area high schools to teach teens about their constitutional rights.
The moot court case involves a fictional class president and his classmates, who were sent on a field trip to a local jail. During the trip, the students were strip-searched as if real prisoners. The class president wrote an editorial on his personal Web site protesting the incident and called for retaliatory action. He was then suspended from school for five days by the school principal of fictional Faber High School.
The petitioners in the case argued that the Web site posed a threat to the principal's safety because the editorial called for violence. They said the principal had the right to suspend the student because the editorial disrupted school.
The respondents argued that the class president was protected under the First Amendment and therefore couldn't be suspended for the editorial.
The case is based on a real incident last May in the District when nine boys from Evans Middle School were strip-searched during a visit to the D.C. Jail. The incident caused a furor among students and parents and resulted in sanctions against school and prison officials.
During the arguments yesterday, students cited case law and sections of the high school code to make their point. Judges often tried to pick apart their arguments.
"If the principal felt threatened, why didn't he call the police?" asked one judge after hearing Gerald Scott argue for the principal.
"He felt, as principal, he had to maintain the facade of cool," came the quick reply.
"Then how did suspending the student dispel the threat?" the judge wanted to know.
"He was following the rules [and their prescribed punishment when broken], as they are laid down in the high school code of conduct," Gerald replied.
The judges, including one who directs the program, praised the students' performance and said that arguing in front of judges is difficult, even for those with law degrees.
"They are terrific," said professor Jamin B. Raskin, who teaches constitutional law at American University and is a director of the fellowship program.
"The level of legal sophistication is extraordinary."
The students some who said they argued sides they didn't personally agree with called the event a challenge.
"It was fun," said Unique Luna. "I did what I came here to do."


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