William & Mary Moot Court Team Hosts 52nd Annual Spong Tournament

  • Spong Tournament Judges
    Spong Tournament Judges  Omar J. Aboulhosn, Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Virginia; D. Arthur Kelsey, Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia; Eugene E. Siler, Jr., Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Cleo E. Powell, Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia; Michael Urbanski, Chief District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia; Cathy Bissoon, District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; Jonathan Biran, Justice, Supreme Court of Maryland; Henry E. Hudson, Senior District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Shakuan Smith ’23, W&M Law Moot Court Chief Justice. Not pictured: Dominique Callins, Judge, Virginia Court of Appeals.  Photo by David F. Morrill
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William & Mary Law School’s Moot Court team hosted its first in-person tournament in two years at the Law School on February 17-18, with almost 200 competitors and coaches coming to compete in the 52nd annual William B. Spong, Jr. Invitational Moot Court Tournament.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the 50th and 51st iterations of the tournament have been held exclusively online. With 45 teams from law schools across the country in attendance, this year’s return to in-person competition is the largest to take place at the Law School in the tournament’s history.

Among the traditions associated with the tournament, the Moot Court team awarded the Spong Award to a distinguished jurist during a banquet dinner Friday evening. This year, the award was given to the , a justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, who has served on the Commonwealth’s highest court since 2011. The Honorable Cleo E. Powell

Powell was previously an attorney with Hunton & Williams, held several notable positions in the Office of the Virginia Attorney General, and was a judge of the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights General District Court from 1993-2000, a judge of the Chesterfield/Colonial Heights Circuit Court in 2000, and a judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia from 2008-2011. Notably, Justice Powell is the first African American woman to serve on the Commonwealth’s high court.

Jennifer R. Franklin, Professor of the Practice of Law and the Moot Court Program's faculty advisor, noted that Powell “is a great jurist because of her willingness to not only hear, but to consider others’ viewpoints. Justice Powell treats everyone she encounters with the utmost respect.”

Arthur Kelsey, Justice, Supreme Court of Virginia; Omar J. Aboulhosn, Magistrate Judge, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Virginia; and Dominique Callins, Judge, Virginia Court of Appeals, head into the final round of the tournament.To judge the competitors, scores of dedicated W&M Law graduates—including sitting judges and practitioners spanning nearly four decades of graduate years—returned to their alma mater.  Aso supporting the Tournament as judges were the Law School's esteemed faculty, practitioners in the greater Williamsburg area, and even practitioners from as far away as California.

Franklin added “in addition to watching young legal professionals hone their skills, my favorite part of the Spong Tournament is seeing the mentorship and comradery among members of our legal community. It was such a pleasure to welcome everyone into our community again.”

This year’s Spong problem’s first issue concerned the Fourth Amendment and centered around the “automobile exception” in the context of accessing electronic data from automobiles, with the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Riley v. California factoring heavily in competitor analyses. The second issue, a matter of criminal procedure, looked at the ability of a magistrate judge to accept Rule 11 felony guilty pleas.

The Tournament’s final round was judged by a distinguished panel of jurists, chaired by Cleo E. Powell, Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia, and included Senior Judge Eugene E. Siler, Jr., from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, federal district and magistrate judges from the Western, Eastern, and Southern Districts of Virginia, a federal district judge from the Western District of Pennsylvania, and judges and justices from the Supreme and Appeals Court of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Maryland. Spong Tournament Awards

A team from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas, were the champions, while a team from Washington University in St. Louis were the runner-up in the tournament.

The Tournament, named for William Belser Spong, Jr.—visionary Dean of the Law School from 1976 to 1985 and a former United States Senator from Virginia—occurs annually in February and draws dozens of teams from law schools around the country to compete. The Tournament is organized and managed by student members of the William & Mary Moot Court Team, which is currently ranked second in the nation.

About the Moot Court Program

The Moot Court Program is one of the Law School's best opportunities for students to develop and refine both oral advocacy and brief writing skills. Team members participate in moot court tournaments, which require each team to research and write an appellate brief, then defend it before a panel of judges in an oral argument. Membership on Moot Court is an honor, and tryouts for the team are competitive.

Each year the Moot Court Team sends its members to approximately 15 inter-collegiate moot court tournaments around the nation. In addition to competing, the team hosts the William B. Spong, Jr., Invitational Moot Court Tournament each year. In existence for more than 35 years, the Spong Tournament focuses on current issues in constitutional law. Rounds are judged by panels of federal and state court judges.

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s first law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.