PUBLISHED:February 21, 2012

Duke Law students win semi-final round of Jessup Cup moot court competition

Elle Gilley ’13 and Christopher Ford ’12 will proceed to the final round of the Jessup Cup International Law Moot Court Competition after winning the regional round in Chicago on Feb. 12. The duo is the first team Duke Law has sent to the final, international round of the Jessup Cup competition.

Ford was named the fifth-best oralist and Gilley 10th best in a field of more than 80 in the national round.

The students progressed through interscholastic competition with other Duke Law students, competing for Moot Court Board membership by arguing an ‘open-universe’ international law problem, before advancing through the regional round. The international rounds are organized by the International Law Students Association.

Ford and Gilley each argued both sides of an issue based on an actual case before the International Court of Justice. In that case, a group of Italian victims of forced labor during WWII had been denied reparation because they didn’t fall into any of the categories of victims that Germany recognized. Eventually the Italian courts decided to recognize an exception to the law of sovereign immunity for grave violations of human rights in the case where the responsible country provides no avenue of recourse. The ICJ case, and its Jessup facsimile, involved issues of sovereign immunity, jurisdiction, and human rights.

“These are two phenomenally talented young advocates,” said Visiting Professor Charles Dunlap, who judged early rounds and helped the duo prepare, along with Lecturing Fellow Julie Maupin. “Their grasp of an extremely challenging scenario was amazing, and their insight into several complex areas of international law was truly exceptional.”

Ford said he and Gilley were grateful for the assistance they received from Dunlap and Maupin, as well as that of Chris Berg ’12, who helped them prepare and write briefs for the competition.

The students’ preparation was interrupted by an unexpected development, Maupin said.

“When the problem was drafted, my guess is that the drafters didn’t think the court would come down with its judgment before the conclusion of the contest,” Maupin said. “Normally they don’t use fact patterns that are actually pending before the court for this very reason. But as it happened the court handed down its decision just a couple of days before the regional competition took place. All of the teams were forced to scramble to update their arguments in light of the new ICJ judgment.”

Maupin was able to give the Duke team an immediate heads-up.

“A former mentor of mine actually pled the case before the ICJ on behalf of Italy, so I happened to get notice of the ICJ judgment on the day it came,” she said. “I suspected that the dissent of one judge would be particularly useful for one of the moot problem’s jurisdictional issues, and I think it was.”

Maupin, a fellow at the Duke Center for International and Comparative Law whose research focuses on international economic law, recommends participation in the Jessup Cup is for students interested in pursuing careers in international law.

“International law is fluid and difficult to make black and white arguments about because the content of international law is often in debate [and] the sources of international law are not always universally agreed upon,” Maupin said. “For students interested in international practice I think it’s a useful exercise to go through the frustration of having no black and white rules and having to be able to make arguments more on the basis of persuasion than on the basis of ‘this is how it is.’”

Gilley and Ford will compete in the Jessup Cup international rounds in Washington, D.C. in March.

Ford and Sarah Boyce ’12 won the 2012 Dean’s Cup Moot Court competition on Jan. 30.