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Penn Law Mock Trial team takes top honors in national criminal law advocacy competition

February 15, 2016

A team from Penn Law recently won the John L. Costello National Criminal Law Trial Advocacy Competition hosted by George Mason School of Law in Fairfax, Virginia.

Jonathan Kaplan L’16 and Catherine Eagan L’16 were the attorneys on the winning team, and their witness was David Hill L’16, who played the defendant in the case. Kaplan was also named Best Oralist for the competition.

Penn Law fielded two of the 32 teams in the competition; a second Penn Law team, consisting of Seth Allen L’17, Susana Medeiros L’17, and Kendal Rinko L’16, made the quarterfinals.

The Costello Competition is different than most because teams do not get the opposing side’s facts, and there are changes made to the case from round to round. The winning Penn Law team played the defense throughout the competition.

“The idea of this competition is to simulate real criminal trials,” said Kaplan. “The facts can change, new evidence can be discovered, and you don’t have very much time to prepare.”

The Costello Competition is also known for presenting difficult cases similar to those that would be faced by criminal law attorneys. This year’s case involved campus sexual assault on a college campus.

The teams received their problem in December, and they were evaluated by judges and practicing attorneys during the competition.

“It was an absolute pleasure to see my team in action and a great learning experience in terms of how my future clients may feel in the dock,” said Hill.

“Although I have no doubt that winning is very gratifying for the students,” said Robert Englert L’06, the team’s coach and an adjunct professor at Penn Law, “what is most rewarding for me is the knowledge that, win or lose, any of our competitors could try a case as soon as they are licensed to do so and that they could probably do it better than most of us who are out there doing it now.”

“When I arrived at Penn Law, I knew that I wanted to be a public defender, but wasn’t sure how to acquire the knowledge and tools that would allow me to be a successful advocate,” said Eagan, who will be joining the Defender Association of Philadelphia after she graduates. “The Penn Law Mock Trial Association has been instrumental in building my skills and confidence, and has helped me to achieve my goal.”

The Mock Trial Team will be going to a number of other events this semester, and each year they participate in competitions involving criminal prosecution, labor and employment law, civil rights law, and other fields. Over the past several years, the team has earned two national championships, four regional championships, and many finalist and semi-finalist honors.