Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Jessup

This week I was a judge during three arguments (rounds) of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which is the largest moot court competition in the world. More than 80 countries participate, with many more law schools and law programs represented. My trusty legal assistant, Dewi Savitri Reni, known as Vitri, from the project I ran in Indonesia for The Asia Foundation, competed in the Jessup when she studied law at the University of Indonesia, that country's premier law school, which is located in a suburb of Jakarta. She continued to stay involved as a team coach and this year as a judge; this brought her to Washington every March, which was a plus in itself, and she urged me to become a judge too.

The Jessup becomes a world unto itself. People compete and then keep returning as judges, bailiffs, general factotums, and coaches. There is a network called FOJ, Friends of Jessup, of which I am now one, because I had to join it to get the info on becoming a judge. Many participants of course become major legal figures in their countries so the networking possibilities are extensive. This Friday--when I will be out of town--there's a 50th anni dinner for the Jessup at the Reagan Building in Federal Triangle, with the U.S. judge on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Stephen Schwebel, and the court's President, Rosalie Higgins, the guests of honor and principal speakers.

The competition itself turns on how two-person teams manage to argue the same case in each round. Every team has won one round, either a U.S. Super Regional, or a National in each country, to get to the Fairmont Hotel in D.C. I broke in by judging two arguments at the Mid-Atlantic Super Regional in February, held at George Washington University National Law Center. The case is artfully drawn and pits two nations against each other in the ICJ at the Hague. There are all sorts of great issues--can a country send troops into another if ethnic cleansing is feared, must the country that acts make secret intelligence available that ostensibly justifies the act, who is liable for sexual exploitation committed by troops ostensibly under the UN flag, and must an assassin of the president of the country taken over by religious extremists be sent back after he has been tried in absentia and sentenced to death under a death penalty re-enacted a week after the assassination.

At the Super Regional, I heard one good argument and one not-so-good argument, all by students at U.S. law schools, whose schools remain unknown to me, so as to preserve anonymity in judging. At these International Rounds, I heard one not-so-good arument, one fairly good argument, and one superb argument. One of these needed simultaneous translation of one side's argument from Arabic. The superb oralists from U.S. law schools--again, I know their names but not their schools--compared favorably to the great Supreme Court advocates I heard recently. They added the extras that make a presentation really click: presenting a solid and appealing theory of the case (especially when the facts of your issue are slightly weighted against you) or, in one especially clever touch, conceding a point where you feel that defending the client's position weakens the entirety of your argument.

I sat with a wonderful melange of judges from all over: a court lawyer from Accra, Ghana; a law school moot court director from Miami; a legal services agency head from Argentina; a lawyer based in Wasilla, Alaska (not a fan of his town's most famous resident); and a JAG lawyer in the U.S. Coast Guard. There was a lot of electricity in the air and sometimes vapors of something else--the hotel had to shut down the bar early last night when it turned out some underaged folks were being served. A warning email went out to all of us involved in the Jessup.

Who was Jessup? He was an American international law professor and scholar who became a judge on the ICJ in the 60s after a distinguished career that had him working with the legendary Elihu Root in the 30s. I'm afraid that that prejudiced me a bit against him if only because of the notorious prejudice of the white-shoe bar in those days, personified by Root, as it happens, and which persisted well into the 70s when I was in active firm practice only to disappear for the most part when law turned into a business. Take your choice--a profession stratified into firms organized by ethnic groups (well, white-shoe WASP outfits v. three-I-League ones, viz., Jewish, Irish, and Italian concerns) or one that has all the elevation of the market-place, which we have seen disappoint us especially this year. Conjures up William Allen White's "tribute" to the newspaper consolidator of his day, Frank Muncey, who "turned a once noble profession into an 8-percent security." Would that journalism were so profitable today as papers shut their doors daily.

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