2

A Mercenary’s Lament

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 10, 2014 in NotFail

mer•ce•nar•y (pl. mercenaries) – noun. a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army.

Today’s my first day “back in the real world” after spending the past weekend at the annual TYLA NTC Regionals.1 And where I coached my very first TYLA trial team, comprised of two 2Ls and a 3L.

A team that ended the competition as finalists :surprised:

In turn making them the best trial team in both North Carolina and South Carolina.2 Not to mention going further in that competition than I ever made it myself.

From… the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That’s not a typo. It’s the same institution I’ve ridiculed on this very website as The University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven. The one whose students meme’d me in my NC State hat. The one with its very own “#gthc” tag here at law:/dev/null.3

And I was their coach :beatup:

So how did a guy with an eagle carving on his dining room table plus another on a bookshelf and a third on my bedroom wall — alongside a wolf painting, a wolf carving, even the comforter on my bed — end up in the finals of my favorite mock trial competition helping the one institution that happens to be a rival of both my undergrad and professional school alma maters?4

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams '15 (Defense), Michelle Markham '14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald '15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg '14 (Student Coach)

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams ’15 (Defense), Michelle Markham ’14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald ’15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg ’14 (Student Coach)

Well first we had an amazing team. I was a little nervous at the start because only one student was a 3L; the other two were 2Ls who’d never competed in anything before, and the 3L student coach assigned to work with me had experience but not in TYLA.

I also got the impression at a few points in practice that our goal was just to not embarrass ourselves — I don’t think anyone (admittedly, myself included) thought we had any shot at going anywhere.

But let me tell you: when it counted, they competed. All three of them turned in solid performances to nab the #6 seed after the first three rounds, setting up a semifinal match against the University of South Carolina for Sunday morning. They promptly slaughtered USC and pushed us on to the finals.5

“But TDot! But TDot!” I hear you saying, “WHY were you working for them?”

Aaanndd… that’s where the title for the blog post comes in. ;)

Last winter my 2L/3L TYLA coach6 and I had talked about the future of NCCU Law‘s team and whether there’d be a spot for me anywhere as an assistant coach. Nothing ever happened with it, so in the Spring I volunteered to be one of the guest judges for the TYLA Regionals when they were hosted by Campbell Law down in Raleigh.

For my round I watched an absolutely superb performance by a team from WFU Law — a team that ended up getting functionally disqualified when a meritless protest was filed over WFU’s cross-examination of the other side’s expert, and the “protest committee” voted to give them -0- points for the cross.7 I felt bad for them. And I also decided that I hated the idea of “just” being a judge if our ballots could be summarily disregarded by a 5-member committee of other competing coaches.

Fast forward to early October. The Monday before the 2L/3L trial team tryouts to be exact. I still stop by the NCCU Law building on a fairly regular basis, so during one of those trips while I’m down in our clinic area I make some inquiries about the process to become a trial team coach.

Now in retrospect I don’t know what response I expected. I figured, at the very least, it would be something along the lines of “All the coach spots are filled for every team at the moment, but when something opens up we’ll let you know.”8 Instead the response I got was as clear as it was unambiguous: “Coaches have to have 5 years of practice experience. That’s the rule.”

I was a smidge annoyed. But rules are rules, right?

So a couple days later, when I’m down in Wake County for a traffic case, I talked with one of my 2L AAJ trial coaches (a District Court Judge down there) about how he got involved. Apparently someone just called and asked him to do it. But he went on to tell me no one even asked him to return as a coach my 3L year or the year after. That in turn led me to express my frustration over how I felt the law school treated our competitions as afterthoughts, and how I really wanted to run one of these teams to show what could be done.

Well even though he’s an NCCU Law alum, he’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Tar Heel as well. He had heard the UNCCH trial team advisor was out for the semester due to a medical issue and suggested I consider looking there.

I then texted a friend of mine from my NC State days who had just graduated from UNCCH Law the prior year. She confirmed the story on the advisor and said it would be “awesome if [I] potentially think about maybe” being their coach (after confessing surprise that I like trial team :crack: ). And if I wanted her to make a call the spot would be mine.

Unpaid, but a shot nonetheless.

Not quite ready to go calling in favors, I had lunch with my other 2L TYLA coach the next week to get his advice on basically squaring off against my own school. And he said to go for it. I’m paraphrasing here, but his argument was something along the lines of “Think about what it says for Central if you do well, what it says if your alma mater’s graduates do a better job at this than their own.”

Still not fully comfortable with the thought of switching sides, I sent a text message to my 2L/3L TYLA coach to get his thoughts since he was still in charge. When he saw me at the Alumni Association meeting that Saturday, he said to take the spot as well.

So I did.

I Facebook-messaged a UNCCH 2L I knew from UNCASG, who in turn put me in touch with the Trial Advocacy Board chairman over there, who in turn connected me with the TYLA squad and a 3L student coach to assist. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

“But TDot! But TDot!” you interrupt again, “WHHYYY??”

Well… because my alma mater didn’t want me :(

Look, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who loves NCCU Law more than I do (or NC State for that matter). You’ll be equally hard pressed to find anyone who takes quite as much glee in disparaging UNC Chapel Hill as I do. The students on the NCCU teams that didn’t make it were real people, including two of my mentees

And I can’t even articulate for you in words how awkward it felt when I actually typed “#goheelsgoamerica” into my phone for a Facebook status. :beatup:

But the fact is it didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to sit on the sidelines getting rusty for another year waiting on my alma mater to let me help. And it most definitely didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to do that for 4 more years until I’d reach some arbitrary quantum of real world experience.

UNCCH needed someone. They offered me that opportunity. The folks I met turned out to be really cool people. And, having made a commitment to them, I wasn’t going to let them down.

So I didn’t. :)

Now the only issue at this point is really what other folks’ decide will happen next year. Because now that I know the finals are attainable, I’m not going away until nationals…

—===—

From the law:/dev/null competition-related archives:

  1. I know I’m behind schedule on the “blog more” resolution, but it’s still early in the year and anything can happen :P []
  2. The regional winners were the University of Georgia — the same school that knocked out EIC, Shutterbug, and I back in Memphis two years ago :mad: — and Georgia State University. []
  3. “GTHC” means “Go to Hell, Carolina!” for the uninitiated ;) []
  4. No comments from UNCCH homers on “omg you’re not our rival!” I’ve enjoyed enough hostility while wearing my NCSU paraphernalia to sporting events and NCCU paraphernalia to law events to know better :* []
  5. Frankly I don’t fully understand how we lost the final round, and got the impression the judges were scoring based on the merits of the case rather than the advocacy. But I’m also biased. []
  6. Don’t have nicknames for most of the folks in this entry, so I’m going to titles. []
  7. The ruling was improper, and it was sufficiently improper that TYLA amended their Rules for this year’s competition to prevent situations like that from happening again. []
  8. It’s not like I swept both 3L competitions and was on the #1-seeded team in the 2012 TYLA Regional semis while serving as SBA President and graduating with honors and two concentrations or anything… :beatup: []

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4

TOP 8!!!

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 18, 2012 in NotFail

AAAHHHHHHHHHH!! :D

Sorry, had to get that out :)

So after finally getting things caught up here at law:/dev/null a couple weeks ago, I promptly disappeared again to focus on my upcoming competitions. I’m the “swing” counsel for one of NCCU Law‘s TYLA National Trial Competition teams again this year and have been determined to improve on last year’s just-barely-missed-it 9th place finish…

…and tonight WE DID IT!!! :spin:

NCCU Law's 2012 TYLA Trial Teams! From left to right: Associate Coach Jessica Major '09, Head Coach Clayton Jones '03, Me, Deyaska Spencer '13, Robert Brooks '12, Jillian Mack '12, Nikia Williams '13, Omari Crawford '13. Not pictured: Associate Coach Dominique Camm '09. Photo courtesy of 雅雅 :)

Teams are a little different year — instead of doing straight 2L-only and 3L-only squads, we have two 3Ls1 and one 2L2 on one team and one 2L, one 2.5L,3 and a 3L on the other — but even with the switched up pairings we still had a team make it into the Top 8 to advance to tomorrow’s quarterfinals.

And not only did we advance, but we discovered (i) we were 1 of only 5 teams4 to win all three of our preliminary rounds and (ii) we also swept all 9 of the judges’ ballots, making us the #1 seed in the quarterfinal pairings! :surprised:

For a time it didn’t seem like things were going to turn out that way.

NCCU Law’s been getting hammered with budget cuts, so we couldn’t afford to print our enlarged exhibits locally and then ship them from Durham; we had to get them printed here in Memphis before our arrival… only to discover yesterday morning (before the first round) that the order was completely FUBAR’d :mad:  So rather than spending our time focusing on the upcoming trial we were scrambling to get the prints done like they needed to be, get additional prints for the stuff that never got done, etc etc.

The first round was against the University of Memphis School of Law with EIC and I on defense, and after it was over we felt pretty good — no repeats of first-round jitters like we had at both the TYLA competition and the AAJ competition last year. Then came this morning, with Shutterbug and I representing the Plaintiff against a team from Duke Law. It was the same Duke Law team that won the 1L K-S competition last year so Shutterbug was looking for revenge and did a superlative job; Duke Law’s main strength was the breadth and quality of their objections, but we had a special pow-wow before heading to Memphis where we anticipated almost everything they threw at us.

But then the afternoon session was against a team from Charleston Law and we just knew EIC and I had lost our shot. One of the other side’s witnesses was actually a witness from the Friday night round playing the same guy, so he knew our cross-examination; the Memphis hosts went out of their way to try and find someone else, but couldn’t come up with anybody so we had to roll with it. I think knowing that was an issue had both of us mentally thrown off because neither of us were really “in the zone” like we should have been from that point onward.

By the grace of God we somehow eked it out though, winning that particular round by a couple points :)

I was so nervous when they were announcing the results of who advanced that I completely forgot my alphabet too. The hosts were announcing winners in alphabetical order, and when they said “E” I dropped my head thinking we had lost again  :oops:  Then they said “H” and I did a little foot stomping before giving the team a bear hug :D

Coach Jones and I with the Sunday rounds poster (before the re-flip)

The 8 advancing teams got called into a side room to get entered onto the chart of Sunday rounds and call a coin toss to see who would be which side. We were originally slated to go against Mercer Law, but their team was late to the meeting (for reasons that’ll be apparent in the next paragraph) so we were given the chance to call the coin toss, won, and were slated to go against them on Defense.

Then we went back to the room to change clothes before getting dinner… only to get called back because apparently there was a ballot error,5 Mercer Law was right in thinking they hadn’t advanced after all (hence why they were late), and we had to do everything all over again with a different team. We lost the coin toss the second time and the sides have switched, so we’re now on Plaintiff paired up with Georgia Law‘s defense.

In addition to us and Georgia Law, there’s one team apiece from Wake Forest Law (NC), Campbell Law (NC), Georgia State Law (GA), Vanderbilt Law (TN), Memphis Law (TN), and Emory Law (GA).

I’m more nervous than a Mythbusters insurance agent about how tomorrow is going to go down, especially after the unexpected change in plans about who’s going on what side. But after last year — and I hate to say this in print because it seems preemptively defeatist, but it’s true — I’m totally content with where we’ve gotten. NCCU Law made it to the Sunday rounds for the first time in at least 3-4 years,6 we are 1 of only 3 North Carolina schools to advance this year, we swept everything, and we snagged a #1 seed… and, the biggest relief for me, I redeemed myself for blowing the first round last year :beatup:

Totally unrelated to how things go, I want to publicly give some praise to the University of Memphis School of Law on how they implemented the competition this year.  They did an excellent job of making sure the judges didn’t know what schools the different competitors were from, reminding coaches and competitors both not to disclose that information intentionally or accidentally, went out of their way to ensure there were no conflicts with judges or witnesses seeing the same teams more than once, the list goes on. The competition coordinators were moving around all over the place keeping things running like a well-oiled machine, and I greatly appreciate that.

And I’m not just saying that because we advanced :P  I’d rather lose a fair contest than win a rigged one.

Aside from all the competition-ness, I also got to see 雅雅 who gave up her weekend to come out and support us, ate some delicious ribs and bbq from Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous, and generally just enjoy having the weight of last year’s failure lifted off my chest. It’s been a good day :)

I’ll keep you posted on how things go tomorrow, but for now I’m heading to bed so I can get ready for tomorrow morning. Good night y’all! :D

—===—

From the law:/dev/null travel-related archives:

  1. Myself and EIC, who was on the AAJ team last year. []
  2. Shutterbug from last year’s Kilpatrick-Stockton 1L team. []
  3. A 3rd-year student in our 4-year JD/MBA joint-degree program []
  4. Out of 32 teams from 16 law schools across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee []
  5. One of the judges marked a defense ballot part of the ballot as a plaintiff part of the ballot :crack: []
  6. No one’s been able to tell me the last time our TYLA team actually made it to Sunday :beatup: []

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-

Getting caught up

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Mar 12, 2011 in The 2L Life

Hey everybody! :D

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here at law:/dev/null, largely due to spending Spring Break this past week trying to get caught up on life post-trial team season. I’m still not there yet, but I figured if I waited to post until I was caught up on classwork I wouldn’t have any readers left :beatup:

So what’s been going on over the past week and a half here in Legal Eagle territory? Here’s a bulleted rundown:

  • Wednesday (03/02/11): Finally had my nuked Gmail restored… in its entirety :surprised:  I have to admit I was both surprised and impressed, and I’ll concede I was wrong in my entry predicting the worst. After making sure all of my mail was restored / downloaded / backed up / etc, I stayed up until 2am-ish to make sure I was fully packed and my trial team binder was ready for the AAJ competition I was brought in on.
  • Thursday (03/03/11): Skipped classes to head to the airport, then flew down to Atlanta GA for the AAJ Student Trial Advocacy Competition regionals. The first round wasn’t until Friday night, so I spent the day with the team checking out the city.  We had lunch at the Underground‘s Georgia Peach Restaurant & Lounge — some of the best barbecue I’ve had outside of North Carolina, and their peach-blended tea was delicious too.1 :)
  • Friday (03/04/11): The 2L team’s first round in the AAJ STAC was against the 3Ls from WFU Law. There were some initial jitters when we found out I had already met the presiding judge — the coach of the GSU Law team Christie and I dismantled at the TYLA NTC — but since we didn’t really know how to go about asking for a recusal (and didn’t even know if doing so would even be appropriate given AAJ’s chronic shortage of judges) we just went ahead and did our thing. EIC and M&M were counsel for the defense on that case and turned in a top-notch performance. It provided a big confidence boost to Tinkerbell2 and I heading into the Saturday rounds.
  • Saturday (03/05/11): And with that confidence in-hand, we torched the next two teams we faced on Saturday :D Tinkerbell and I were counsel for the Plaintiff for both rounds, and we first went up against 2Ls from I’m-not-entirely-sure-where.3 The results could be summed up like this: Tinkerbell was so devastating on cross-examination, their lead counsel blurted “DAMN!” in exasperation when yet another one of his objections was (properly) overruled :spin: I also got to deliver my first “split” closing, which went over well with the jury both in its execution and content.

    NCCU Law's 2L and 3L AAJ Trial Teams :D

    We followed that beatdown with a match against the 2Ls from WFU Law, in what was hands-down the toughest match we had. Their cross-examination was sharp, and it seemed like every evidentiary ruling made by the judge was going in their direction whether it was warranted or not. Tinkerbell finally shook them off their game during her cross-examination of the Defendant, who started fabricating facts under the pressure. I was sufficiently heated at that point4 that I was out for blood when it came time for closing arguments, and proceeded to beat the Defense over the head with their own inconsistencies. It was all very satisfying :angel: Afterwards we headed to a post-competition reception, then went back to the hotel and played spades at its downstairs bar until last call.

  • Sunday (03/06/11): We found out our 2L team came in 7th place overall5 and only the Top 4 would advance to the semis, so Sunday got spent checking out the Centennial Olympic Park, the Georgia Aquarium, and then packing up to head back to the Bull City. Before leaving the hotel we also ran into MDG… which was vaguely reminiscent of a 1L nightmare I used to have where I tried to hide from my teachers but they always seemed to find me no matter where I went.6 :beatup:
  • Monday & Tuesday (03/07-08/11): Both of these days get lumped together because they were both spent knocking out life necessities — several loads of laundry, apartment cleaning, turning in travel-related paperwork, and so on.
  • Wednesday (03/09/11): Had a business lunch with the Pickle Princess, who I hadn’t seen since the April festivities celebrating the end of my second term as UNCASG President. After catching up on how our respective lives had progressed over the past year, I gave a tour of my alma mater to a quartet of her students who were participating in a FFA competition we were hosting. Turns out one of them even wants to go to law school eventually :surprised: If I ever get sick of the whole “being a lawyer” thing, I think I’d really love being a booster for N.C. State and for NCCU Law :spin:
  • Thursday & Friday (03/10-11/11): These two get lumped together too, since they were basically split between watching the opening games of the ACC tournament and trying to catch up on all the mounds of schoolwork that amassed themselves between focusing on TYLA, focusing on SBA, and focusing on AAJ.

Which brings us to today: catching up on law school work, catching up with law school friends, and catching up on the law school blog :D

God willing I’ll be able to resume my somewhat-normal life now that I’ll have some free hours again, which in turn should (hopefully) mean more work around the blawgosphere — keep your fingers crossed!7

And until then, have a great night y’all! :)

  1. I did, however, nearly choke to death at one point amid drinking said tea. Madame Prosecutor was not pleased. []
  2. Another 1L K-S veteran with me. She’ll probably object to this nickname, but as 1 of the 2 shortest people I know at NCCU Law I thought it was appropriate ;) []
  3. I think they said Mercer Law, but I can’t remember for the life of me :beatup: []
  4. I know it’s a competition, but lying under oath? Really? []
  5. In reviewing the ballots, we swept Saturday but somehow lost the Friday night round. Even given my natural bias toward my own team, I’m still at a loss to explain how any rational judge (let alone 3 of them) could have arrived at that conclusion. When a pair of Emory Law 3Ls kicked our butts at TYLA, I admitted it to you. The people we went against that night in AAJ were far worse, while EIC and M&M easily outperformed Co-Counsel and I ::shrug:: []
  6. He was supposedly in town for a NBA game, not to tell me my 1L CivPro grades were entered wrong and I had actually failed. []
  7. Unless you don’t actually like reading this stuff, in which case you can stop visiting :P []

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1

2 out of 3 ain’t bad…

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 19, 2011 in The 2L Life

Today was the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the TYLA regionals in Charlotte, and I’m glad to say the Legal Eagles of NCCU Law bounced back from yesterday’s shellacking just fine :D

Both rounds today had myself and a 1L K-S team colleague who I’ll dub Christie1 as the Defense counsel. The morning session had us up against a Georgia State Law squad as Prosecution.

The NCCU Law TYLA trial teams -- our coaches are on the far left and right, and then from left it's me, Christie, Co-Counsel, and the 3Ls :)

TYLA provides the witnesses for each round, and unfortunately for the GSU folks their star witness (the detective who conducted the homicide investigation) was a sweet elderly lady who couldn’t remember a single thing they told her during witness prep. Their direct examination of her dragged on and on, with counsel having to refresh the witness’s recollection repeatedly throughout. It was their very first witness too, so it not only threw them off their game for the rest of the round but also let me build my entire case off my very first cross-examination — a judicious nodding or shaking of my head, and what should have been a hostile witness gave me the exact answer I wanted without hesitation :spin:

It was a lucky break for us, but one that provided a much-needed confidence boost for the afternoon round against WFU Law.  Christie and I could tell during the back-and-forth on pre-trial motions that the presiding judge was more friendly than the ones we had gotten in the two previous rounds, so we adjusted our demeanors accordingly.  The WFU team did a solid job on direct and with witness prep; their detective was the most challenging for me to control out of any of the witnesses I crossed in the competition. But he could tell I wasn’t going to let him venture outside of his box, so to trip me up he started inventing facts — and did so at precisely the wrong time.

As background, you can go to the TYLA NTC website to read the fact pattern (State of Lone Star v. Robert Duffie), but essentially the only forensic evidence tying the Defendant to the crime scene was 1 latent fingerprint found on a piece of tape taken from one of the victim’s bodies. My line of questioning on cross-examination included a closing crescendo designed for maximum drama and impact — basically building up how thorough the investigation was and then pointing out all they found was that single latent print — and at the beginning of that sequence I ask if the Detective found any packaging for the tape. The answer of course is supposed to be “no”, and then I argue in closing that they found no packaging because it was the roll of tape used by the store personnel to make repairs so of course my client’s fingerprint was on it.

Well this particular detective was getting annoyed that I had kept him in the box where I wanted him for the past 7ish minutes, and doubly annoyed that the judge had been responsive to my occasional objections to his non-responsive answers. So he decides he’s going to invent facts. I ask him if he found any packaging on the roll of tape. He pauses to think, looks at me, and goes “No I didn’t. It’s my understanding from my investigation that it was the role of tape the employees used to make repairs around the store.”  :crack:

I have no earthly clue how he thought that was going to trip me up, but I look at him with my jaw almost-but-not-quite on the floor. I turn to look at Christie, who looks at me like she’s not quite sure he just said what he just said but maybe he said it after all. I look at the jury members, who are giving me raised eyebrows. I look at the judge, who’s giving the witness a raised eyebrow. And in a voice that ended up cracking because I was still in total shock, I go “Well in that case sir, no further questions!”

The look on the detective’s face when he realized where I was going with it was priceless.

At that point the wheels came off for the WFU crew. Their star witness had just flamed out and their next witness had nothing substantive to add. Then we got part of their expert forensic testimony excluded on 403 grounds. Then both of our defense witnesses were phenomenal under cross-examination. Then came closing arguments, where I reminded the jury of broken promises made by the State before hammering home my “Wrong man. Wrong place. Wrong time.” theme the whole way through :D

It was a beginning-to-end shellacking of our own, and a fitting conclusion to our performance.

Since only the top 8 teams proceed to the semi-finals, and those top 8 get determined based on their performance on both Friday and Saturday, we learned at the banquet a couple hours ago that we didn’t score enough points to advance to the semi-finals tomorrow. But to beat 2 out of 3 teams in my very 1st competition as an advocate is a solid first step :)

Going to enjoy the rest of the night with my colleagues before packing up to head back to the Bull City tomorrow. It’s been a great experience, and I’m looking forward to what happens next year! :spin:

  1. A reference to her Barbie-like features; at first glance you’d think she was a model instead of a soon-to-be-lawyer :surprised: []

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