Taylor Elicegui ‘19
On Tuesday, September 25, 2018, four members of the Appellate Litigation Clinic—Amanda Lineberry ’19, Kendall Burchard ’19, Sarah Crandall ’19, and Lizard Joynes ’19—argued two cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. They traveled to Richmond, where the Fourth Circuit heard several cases. I spoke with all four and learned a lot about their experience.
Lineberry and Burchard argued Mangum v. Hallembaek, on behalf of Mr. Mangum. Burchard explained, “Mangum v. Hallembaek, is a habeas-turned-administrative-law case. Mangum was sentenced first by a federal judge in North Carolina and then by a state judge in Oklahoma. The state sentencing judge directed that his federal and state sentences run concurrently. However, after he served his state sentence, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) refused to honor the directive and told him his sentences were to run consecutively. Mangum filed a nunc pro tunc request to have the time served in the state prison count toward his federal sentence, and it was denied. Mangum sued, and the Appellate Clinic represented him before the Fourth Circuit in 2016. Mangum won, and his case was remanded to the district court. The district court directed the Bureau of Prisons to reconsider his nunc pro tunc request. The BOP did so, and again denied his request. Our case begins with that denial. Mangum filed a motion to compel compliance with the Fourth Circuit’s opinion in the first iteration of this case. The district court denied Mangum’s motion to compel, and instead found ‘the BOP . . . evaluated all of the relevant factors under [the statute] in a manner that is consistent with the Fourth Circuit’s opinion.’ [We disputed] that, and [contested] the adequacy of the BOP’s review.”
Lineberry did the initial argument and Burchard tackled the rebuttal. Lineberry said, “I was given a substantial amount of uninterrupted time at the beginning of my argument, but otherwise had a very hot bench! In particular, Judge Harris drilled down on one piece of the case. It was the toughest part of the argument, but it also made me feel respected. I felt that she wasn't trying to trip me up or make me feel nervous. Instead, she was trusting me to help her work through the stickiest parts of our case. That was a gift.” Burchard had a pretty hot bench as well, with the judges keeping her for an extra four minutes or so with their questions.
Crandall and Joynes argued Battle v. Ledford, on behalf of Mr. Ledford. According to Crandall, “We argued that the district court erred in dismissing our client's Section 1983 claim as barred by the statute of limitations, because the court failed to consider two of our client's valid reasons for tolling the statute of limitations while he exhausted his administrative remedies.” Joynes added, “Our issues on appeal were whether the statute of limitations was tolled either statutorily or equitably such that his complaint would have been timely.” Crandall started with a cold bench (no questions from the judges), which she described as “more nerve-wracking” because she “couldn’t tell what the judges thought of [her] argument at first.” Joynes had a hot bench—she got through her “road map without interruption, but Judges Motz and Duncan didn’t spare another moment of the next ten minutes after that point.”
Both teams invested a lot of time and effort in preparing. Joynes explained, “We read the record and all of the briefs and then Professor Braga instructed us to read all of the cases cited in the briefs––that was quite a task. From that point though, we crafted our initial arguments and began mooting. The advice and time given to us by our clinic colleagues, professors, friends, and family was invaluable. We ran our arguments many times over the weeks leading up to our argument, and each time, someone helping us gave us a new perspective on our issues and how to convey our positions. Professors Braga, Mitchell, and Spencer each mooted us, and their input was immeasurably helpful.” After finishing reading the record and cases, Crandall “focused on addressing the concerns raised by opposing counsel and finding a simple way to explain the rather complex statutory framework relevant to my argument. Lizard and I mooted our argument with Professors Braga, Mitchell, and Spencer, as well as with our classmates, to make sure we were ready for hot or cold benches. That was certainly the most helpful part of my preparation––running through various permutations of the argument to make sure I was comfortable with whatever the judges threw at us.” Similarly, Burchard and Lineberry mooted “almost every day from the beginning of the year.” Burchard elaborated, “I read, and reread, and reread again, the record, and talked about the case and our litigation strategy as much as possible.” Linreberry remarked “The most helpful parts of my preparation were (1) having a ton of friends moot us (you know who you are––THANK YOU!), and (2) having the most poetic and noble land mermaid, Kendall Burchard, talk me through my nerves and the toughest questions for our case.”
The real thing is both similar to and different from Moot Court. “Arguing on behalf of a real client certainly raised the stakes for me, and I felt that the judges really cared about reaching the right outcome, which is not usually the case with moot court arguments. It was also odd not needing to stop on a dime when my time ran out! But overall, the experience of working my way through my argument and fitting it around the judges' concerns carried over from my moot court experiences,” Crandall stated. According to Burchard, “The biggest difference is the record. At the moot court level, you’re confined to about 4 pages of facts. In this case, our record extended close to 300 pages. It made things feel that much more real and consequential. Mr. Mangum’s certificates from classes he’s taken in prison were included, and it removed the distance between us. This wasn’t just a matter of law, this was about a man’s life.”
For students contemplating prepping for their own arguments, Burchard, Lineberry, Crandall, and Joynes had some good advice. Burchard said, “Speak your argument aloud as much as possible. Anticipate questions, and prepare for them. Give your argument in front of a mirror, and look yourself in the eye while speaking—if you can convince yourself, you can convince anyone of your position. Remember that you are there to be helpful to the court, and that immediately relieves the pressure.” Lineberry added, “Approach oral argument as a conversation, not an argument. In other words, do your best to be (and sound) helpful to the judges hearing your case. This means you should know your record and cases inside and out, identify the toughest questions in your case, come up with the best possible answers to those questions, and be ready to give those answers in way that feels helpful to a judge rather than defensive. Also, remember to breathe.” According to Crandall, “I’d recommend that students view the experience as a conversation rather than an argument. Certainly, you want to bring the judges to your way of thinking and advocate zealously on behalf of your client, but the most effective way to do that is often to let the judges' concerns shape the conversation. It won't matter how eloquent you are if you leave the judges with significant unanswered questions. Oral argument is your one opportunity to interface directly with the decisionmakers, so make the most of it. Mooting your argument with a variety of people will also help you become more flexible in how you approach the argument, because everyone zeroes in on different issues and details.” Joynes said, “The most helpful preparation for me was to get as many different perspectives as possible on my argument, set my expectations, and go in with confidence. Most of all, before I approached the podium, Professor Braga passed me a note that said, ‘have fun!’”