First Time’s the Charm: Appellate Newcomers Dominate Their Debut


n a good day, you meet expectations. On a great day, you exceed them. On a spectacular day, you turn them into a faint speck in your rear-view mirror.

For Berkeley Law’s team at this year’s Roger J. Traynor California Appellate Advocacy Moot Court Competition — Julia Bennett ’23, Elle Mahdavi ’23, and Fatima Ladha ’23 — dazzling final results validated diligent preparation.

First place for best oral argument in the final round? Check. The Excellence in Appellate Advocacy Award for highest combined oral argument scores in the first two rounds? Check. The Gisnet Mandell Award for best brief? Check. The Geoffrey Hall Wright Award for Bennett as best oralist? Checkmate.

Julia Bennett
QUITE A START: Julia Bennett ’22 won the best advocate award at her very first event, the Roger J. Traynor California Appellate Advocacy Moot Court Competition.
Alums Brittney Harris ’13 and Jonathan Chacon ’22 — who was the Berkeley Law External Moot Court Program’s co-student director with classmates Benjamin Malings, Elizabeth Heckmann, and NoahLani Litwinsella — helped coach the team.

“Winning reflects how much we all put into the competition over the semester,” Bennett says. “It was an incredibly positive and rewarding experience.”

The fact pattern involved a police officer dispatched to a commercial parking lot who discovered “Peter Prescott” reclined in a vehicle. The officer detained him and found drugs and a firearm. Prescott’s subsequent suppression motion was denied and he pled guilty, preserving his right to appeal.

At issue: Was Prescott legally detained? If not, does discovery of a parole or probation search condition remove the taint of an illegal detention under the attenuation doctrine? What constitutes purposeful and flagrant police misconduct under that doctrine?

The students divvied up the brief based on the legal issues and their own interests. Because Traynor Competition participants argue both sides of the case, they also closely reviewed each others’ sections while gaining key insights from Harris and Chacon.

“During the actual competition and especially during the final round, I felt so empowered because we had strong arguments and were really familiar with the relevant case law,” Ladha says.

The team started preparing a few months before the competition, which Mahdavi — who received an individual merit award in her first moot court event — credits for making it “a lot less stressful.”

Bennett, who also had no prior competition experience, now co-leads the External Moot Court Program.

“I was inspired to run because Jonathan was such an amazing coach,” she says. “He made the process really fun and provided a true opportunity to learn and grow.” — Andrew Cohen