These CSULB students proved they can argue and took home a moot court championship

When the moment of truth was about to arrive, Marco Romero couldn’t bear to look. Instead of nervously watching his computer screen, he was pacing the hallway, knowing that the news—whether good or bad—would travel quickly via text.

“Right before the final announcement came, I just couldn’t take it,” Romero recalled. “I knew my phone was gonna light up, either with ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you guys lost, I’m so sorry,’ or it’s gonna light up with ‘Hell yeah!’

“Luckily it was the latter.”

Upon receiving that first celebratory text, Romero knew he could run back to his computer and celebrate with his teammates via Zoom. Romero and partner Vaishalee Chaudhary had just won the American Moot Court Association (AMCA) national championship in oral advocacy.

In moot court competitions, teams are presented with a fictional case and must prepare arguments for both sides. Prior to each round of the competition, teams are assigned to either the petitioner or respondent teams based on a coin flip.

The case in this year’s competition was centered on the constitutionality of federal vaccine mandates. After each team presents their arguments, winners are determined by a panel of judges.

Romero and Chaudhary’s win marked just the second AMCA national title for oral advocacy in CSULB history and fifth moot court championship overall.

“I am so proud of this hardworking Moot Court team,” said CSULB President Jane Close Conoley in a statement. “This makes CSULB one of just four public universities to win a national title for oral advocacy in AMCA’s 22-year history. This is CSULB’s second national championship in oral advocacy, putting the CSULB team in rarified company with only one other school having won more.”

President Conoley also pointed out that CSULB is the only university to win the national title in oral advocacy more than once, winning in 2003 and now 2022. The program has won AMCA national titles for written advocacy three times: 2004, 2014, and 2021.

As a team, Chaudhary and Romero made some history for themselves as well. In their third and final year as partners, the two seniors went unbeaten through the entire moot court season, culminating in the championship they’d been seeking for most of their college careers.

“It was a perfect season, which is just insane,” said Chaudhary. “When I started moot court, nowhere in my mind did it ever occur to me that I could be the best in the country. Every single year at nationals, (Marco and I) have gotten pretty far, but always come up a little bit short. So this being our last year, we just wanted to give it our all, and instead of focusing on winning, we really focused on having a good time. Let’s show everyone that we really like what we’re doing, and I think that’s what took us the whole way. Finishing that very last round and being able to say that we took this case to the very end and won it, it’s just enormous.”

Both Chaudhary and Romero plan to attend law school after graduating this spring. They’re currently in the application process and assessing their options for the future.

Chaudhary says that moot court has helped change her perception of the world and how she approaches problems. Because moot court forces teams to prepare arguments for both sides of a case, it requires participants to thoroughly examine and understand opposing viewpoints.

“It’s deeply changed the way that I approach a problem that has two possible sides,” Chaudhary explained. “I’m a political science major, and everyone in my major wants to talk all the time. We all have arguments, we all want to get into debate, but I think what sets myself and everyone else on the team apart is this ability to see both sides of an argument. Usually, we tend to choose one side and stick to that, but the court forces you not to choose sides but to have them chosen for you, and then you have to come up with the argument … That’s what moot court is all about, these constitutional rights and principles that sometimes we forget when the politics get entrenched in it. And it’s especially relevant right now when everything seems so divided.”

Romero’s journey into the legal field started when he was a student at Long Beach Poly. He was inspired to help change the justice system at the same time he realized his childhood dream was unlikely to pan out.

“My dream growing up was to be an NBA player, and you know, I’m all of 5’6”, so it wasn’t gonna happen,” Romero said with a laugh. “I was asked to start a mock trial team my sophomore year of high school, and the thrill that I got from doing that was even better than basketball. It kind of paired my personal experience of having parents that are immigrants, and then also having family members going through the justice system where I thought ‘Wow, there’s a lot wrong here.’ I really do want to change a lot and doing this kind of work is absolutely exhilarating and thrilling.”

Before learning they’d won, Chaudhary and Romero had to wait patiently for nearly an hour as individual winners were announced and dignitaries were thanked until finally the decision was announced for their competition. They’d spent countless hours practicing and preparing under the tutelage of professor Lewis Ringel, who has been CSULB’s moot court director since 2006, and this was their last chance to bring a championship to Long Beach.

“It was the culmination of three years of really hard work of dedication, and really the best experience of my undergraduate,” Romero said. “Knowing that it was all coming to an end made winning that last round a much bigger deal. I remember thinking, ‘Please let us finish this in the best way possible.’ And I was extremely happy that we did.”

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