Lile Semifinals: Thornhill and Whisenhunt Will Face Dickman and Mers in Lile Final in September

Lena Welch ‘20
New Media Editor

Two teams of 2Ls squared off in the 2019 Lile Moot Court competition semifinal round Tuesday, April 2.  Abbey Thornhill ’20 and Katherine Whisenhunt ’20, who represented appellee Janet Davis, prevailed over Billy Hupp ’20 and Dana Raphael ’20, who argued for the federal government. In the other bracket, Henry Dickman ’20 and Megan Mers ’20, for appellee Davis, defeated Anna Bobrow ’20 and Jay McHugh ’20, who represented the appellant U.S. The winning teams, Thornhill and Whisenhunt and Dickman and Mers, advance to the Lile Moot Court final in the fall.

From left to right: Megan Mers ’20, Henry Dickman ’20, Abbey Thornhill ’20, and Katherine Whisenhunt ’20. Photo Courtesey of University of Virginia School of Law.

From left to right: Megan Mers ’20, Henry Dickman ’20, Abbey Thornhill ’20, and Katherine Whisenhunt ’20. Photo Courtesey of University of Virginia School of Law.

The four teams of competitors argued in front of a panel composed of Judge Vince Chhabria of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Chief Judge Mark Hornack of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Ed Kneedler ’74.

The problem, Davis v. United States, posed two issues for the participants. Whisenhunt and Raphael in the first argument and Dickman and Bobrow in the second addressed the question of whether, without a warrant, a law enforcement officer with probable cause violates the Fourth Amendment by arresting a suspect with a verbal command across the threshold of the suspect’s home. Thornhill and Hupp as well as Mers and McHugh tackled whether “exceeds authorized access” in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act statute at issue penalizes a person’s misuse of information that he or she could otherwise access lawfully.

In both arguments, the panel reversed the district court, ruling in favor of the appellee, Davis. The judges had high praise for the competitors across the board.

Chhabria and Hornack noted that they wished they had lawyers like the eight students appearing in their courts. The judges said they were impressed by the poise of the competitors, even under rapid-fire questioning from the bench. In particular, Chhabria remarked that he liked that the advocates were not afraid to say yes to the questions before pivoting to support their positions.

Hornack highlighted the highly-integrated thinking of the participants, which, he said, made clear that they had thought about the problem as a complete whole. He added that he hoped the students would keep the sharp edge and skills they have developed by finding opportunities to get in the courtroom after graduation. Kneedler focused on the importance of knowing the ins and outs of the logic and limits of the argument. He added that it is important to be prepared with the aspects of one’s argument that can be conceded and the legal rule that each side wants to be applied, because judges seek a rule to be applied across all cases. Additionally, each of the judges noted the importance of being yourself in an argument. A comfortable conversation, according to the judges, helps provide effective advocacy because it allows all sides to focus on the substance.

Darcy Whelan ’19, the person in charge of organizing the Lile Semi-Finals, commented to the Law Weekly about the success of the event: “The event went very well, with faculty including Dean Goluboff in attendance. All four teams did such an amazing job that I truly don’t envy the judges who had to pick the advancing teams. My advice to the current and future participants echoes something that Judge Chhabria said: hone your skill, but don’t feel like you need to change your entire presentation style to fit some mold. Express yourself how you do naturally, even as you work on things like enunciation, volume, and posture.”

Whisenhunt told the Law Weekly what she’s most looking forward to come the fall: “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Abbey. Our success was truly a collaborative effort. While the competition has required many hours of work, it has been fun because I have such a great partner.” Dickman, in reflecting on his and Mers preparation for the semi-finals, told the Law Weekly about their approach. “We spent weeks trying to figure out what the judges would care about and what they’d skip over, and it was fun to dig into the arguments that they felt were at the heart of our case. Megan and I had fantastic mooting partners while we prepped for the quarters and semis, and I’m excited to practice with them all again in the fall.”

The finalists will argue a new problem, which is written by members of the Lile Moot Court Board, in the fall.