Update: This story was updated to reflect that students from Academy High School of Science and Technology participated in the competition.
More than 40 high school students from across the Denver metro area on Saturday got a taste of life as a constitutional lawyer when they participated the University of Colorado Law School's second annual Marshall-Brennan Moot Court Competition.
The competition, held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wolf Law Building, challenged students to step into the shoes of some of the top attorneys in the country and present an oral argument regarding constitutional law before a mock appeals court.
This year's event, which drew 41 competitors from six high schools, asked participants to argue whether or not the First Amendment protected comments made by a high school student on a school-sponsored website that were critical of the principal and discussed drug use.
"It was pretty fun. A little nerve racking, but still fun," said Aldo Rodriguez, 18, a senior at Denver's Abraham Lincoln High School who participated.
Rodriguez, who began preparing legal arguments as part of his civics class at Lincoln, said he valued the opportunity to practice speaking in front of people and gain a better understanding of the U.S. legal system.
Following morning rounds during which all students presented three arguments to volunteer panels of volunteer judges and lawyers from the Denver-Boulder legal community, the field was narrowed to six finalists. More than 200 fellow students, teachers, team coaches and parents filed into the Wolf building's Wittemeyer Courtroom for the awards ceremony, during which all participants were given medals.
The six finalists, and four alternates if sufficient money can be raised, will participate April 5-7 in the national Marshall-Brennan competition in Washington D.C. CU Law's Byron R. White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law will fund the trip.
The finalists were Crystal Perez, Bryan Ruiz and Haley Candelario of the York International School, Kassandra Yanez and Lessly Chavez of the Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts and Marlene Talamantes of the North Valley School for Young Adults. The program is geared toward minority communities underrepresented in the ranks of the legal profession, and included participants from Denver-area schools Lincoln, Bruce Randolph School, Global Leadership Academy and Martin Luther King Jr. Early College, and three students from Thornton's Academy High School of Science and Technology.
After being recognized as finalists, the Washington-bound group was asked to present arguments once more; this time in front of Judge Neil Gorsuch of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender and Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Terry Fox.
During brief, but tough presentations, the imposing panel asked students legal questions about their arguments and challenged them to use prior case law to defend their positions.
"I look forward to seeing you in my courtroom in about 15 years and I'll be tough on you then," Gorsuch told the participants following their presentations, referencing their bright legal futures. "It was a great pleasure to be here, have a wonderful time in D.C. Make sure you stop by the Supreme Court Building and watch a real argument while you are there."
The panel recognized Marlene Talamantes, 19, a senior at the North Valley School as the competition's top orator.
"It felt like I was home," Talamantes said of her experience in the competition. "Every time I spoke up there, I felt like I was meant to do it."
Talamantes, who graduate in May, said she is considering attending CU for college and hopes to pursue a career in law.
Melissa Hart is the director of the Byron R. White Center, and the organizer of the moot court program at CU. She said that over the past two years more than 500 students have taken part in the program, which also involves classroom level instruction delivered by a select group of CU law students.
Hart said the program has the dual benefit of helping CU law students who coach the competitors to gain a better grasp of constitutional law, and providing a public service to the high school students and hopefully encouraging them to pursue higher education. Now, Hart will set out to raise the money to bring the six finalists and their four alternates to Washington.
"Anyone who wants to support taking these amazing kids to D.C. can donate on the Colorado Law website under the Byron White Center page," said Hart.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.