Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU law students take on international competition

First they took on the nation. Then, they tackled the world.

DU’s Jessup International Moot Court team lived up to its reputation in international law this spring, fending off U.S. law schools in regional battles to win a place at the international competition, then turned in a top-level performance on the world stage.

Five Sturm College of Law students—Matthew Cooper, Matthew Dardenne, Sunika Pawar, Krishma Parsad and Ruby Thapliya—traveled to Washington, D.C., in March to debate what organizers called a global issue that was “ripped from the headlines…the legality of humanitarian intervention and the problem of sexual misconduct by United Nations peacekeepers.”

DU’s team went up against thousands of students from 80 countries in oral and written moot court presentations. In the end, DU was one of 18 teams to make it to the final round. The team’s written briefs, called a “memorial,” was judged second best in international competition. The team from perennial power Universidad de los Andes, in Bogota, Columbia, took first.

“This team was great. They worked like dogs,” says coach John Powell, a Denver attorney and 1988 DU law graduate. “They did everything I asked them, and more. There were times when we’d been at it for hours and I said, ‘That’s it, let’s knock off,’ and they’d tell me, “You go on home, we just want to do a little more.’”

Powell, a former editor-in-chief of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy, says the team was focused on its written briefs and made a point of memorizing its oral presentations rather than depending on notes as other teams do.

“My goal is to have them stand up there and not say something they’ve memorized, but to share knowledge that they have mastered,” Powell says.

Dardenne, who plans to graduate in May, has been on the DU Jessup team for two years. He was asked to try out because he participated in the Barrister’s Competition in his first year.

“I didn’t know much about international law,” he says. “After I was on the team, I was completely caught up in it. International law is fascinating. It’s complex, there are so many issues to consider. The sources of law are vast, changing, and in some cases, contradictory. As a result, the experience became all consuming, but in a good way.”

Dardenne says he hopes one day to return to DU as an adjunct professor.

“Now that it’s over, I am just trying to finish my last semester, get ready for the bar, and start my job this fall,” Dardenne says. “I will always stay involved with the team and the Jessup competition. I hope to come back as an adjunct and teach some specialized courses in international law.”

Professor Ved Nanda, who founded DU’s Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law, says he’s proud of the students’ work and says the results bolster DU’s reputation as a leader in international law.

“We are just so proud of the work they have done,” Nanda says. “We have students from all over the country and the world who come here specifically to study in our international law program. This school has such an excellent record in international law.”

While Nanda recognizes the work of Powell and the students, Sturm College of Law Dean José (Beto) Juárez Jr. is quick to cite Nanda’s work for DU’s foundation in international law.

“It is wonderful to see the talent and hard work of our students recognized in this international venue,” Juarez says. “Because of the pioneering work of Professor Ved Nanda, DU Law has a premier program in international law. Many of our students come to DU because they want to specialize in international law. The accomplishments of the Jessup International Moot Court Team will undoubtedly help us to attract even more of the best students in the country.”

The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is hosted by the International Law Students Association. The event was created 50 years ago to promote international law and international advocacy. The competition is named after U.S. judge Philip C. Jessup, who was serving at the time on the International Court of Justice.

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