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Law students showcase talent in contest

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By Steven Bieber

Students conducted a mock federal circuit appeals court case during the 49th Annual Charles W. Fornoff Competition in the McQuade Law Auditorium at the University of Toledo Law Center on October 24.  

The following is an analysis of how the competition unfolded, showcasing how student participants navigate complex issues of social media and public school regulations.

The case focused on student Maxine McKinney; she posted digital pieces mocking a high school teacher and coach on her Facebook account. The school suspended McKinney, which prompted a lawsuit. 

McKinney ultimately lost the case, so her parents appealed to the Fourteenth Circuit Court. 

Three judges sat for the competition: Honorable Denise Page Hood of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan, the Honorable Christine Mayle of the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals and the Honorable Thomas Parker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. 

Judges often consider precedent and review landmark court cases for reference. 

For this particular case, students considered Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, (1969). In Tinker, the Court decided a student “may express his opinions…if he does so without materially and substantially interfer[ing] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school and without colliding with the rights of others.” 

Finalists argued whether the case applied to McKinney’s Facebook posts. 

Each finalist was paired up with an attorney. Finalist Nicole Cote was paired with Samuel Gold; they were the Appellant side, supporting McKinney.

Finalist Dana Pasiwk was paired with Ruth Willer and they acted as counsel for Appellee, fighting for the school.

At the start, the judges invited the Appellant to plead its case first. Gold went first to set up Cote to argue that the school did not have the right to punish McKinney.

The side argued she was simply expressing free speech and her actions did not cause any harm or distractions. 

The Appellee went next. Willer set up finalist Pasiwk. Their side argued the school was right to discipline McKinney. 

When the participants were on the stand, they fended off questions from the judges, who were looking for holes in the participants’ arguments. All four people involved were able to counter almost everything the judges threw at them. 

The judges left temporarily for deliberation, complimenting both sides for their responses and how well prepared they were when they returned

The judges declared the Appellant team of Gold and Cote the winners. 

Pasiwk was awarded Best Oralist. 

Pasiwk said she did a lot of research and practice at home to prepare for the competition. She did  not regret any of her arguments, but she wishes she would have mentioned “the fact that the speech at issue targeted a faculty member by reference and picture.”

She said she was not completely in favor of the side she was chosen to defend. 

Although I believe what the student did was inappropriate and should have been disciplined, I also align strongly with First Amendment rights and felt the school’s discipline was a bit extreme.” 

Pasiwk’s advice for people who compete in the future: “Take the chance and go for it.” The next competition starts in the Spring.

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