From the very start, the odds appeared stacked against Martin Methodist College in the 2011 Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge.
Unlike several of the other 13 teams from colleges and universities across the state, the Martin Methodist group had no coach and no background in pre-law curriculum. In fact, none of the four members of the team had ever even witnessed a mock trial event, let alone competed in one at this high level. The two male members of the team – Michael Poirier and Ben Biddy – didn’t even wear suit jackets with their ties and white shirts, a definite strike against them each time they stepped into the courtroom.
No doubt, as the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature (TISL) began at the state capitol in Nashville on Thursday, Nov. 17, the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge (AMC3) team from Martin Methodist College was not considered a major threat to challenge the likes of Rhodes College, Tennessee Tech or Vanderbilt University.
That would all change over the next four days, and the team from Martin Methodist – enrollment 1,108 – would make history by capturing the top honor.
A year earlier, Michael Poirier had been intrigued by the AMC3 event, but the deadline to enter was already passed. When word arrived in October for the 2011 competition, Poirier, a senior criminal justice major from Columbia, Tenn., and Ben Biddy, a senior business administration major from Shelbyville, Tenn., teammates on the RedHawk men’s bowling team, decided to give it a shot. They were joined by Raleigh Calkins, a senior criminal justice major from Lynnville, Tenn., and Crystal Rosson, a freshman biology major from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., who is also a member of the RedHawk women’s bowling team.
The mock case that would be argued during the four days of AMC3 competition, Missibama Regional Medical Center v. Smythe, focused on a claim by the medical center that the widow of a former patient should be held liable for the medical debt incurred by her late husband. While existing state law does hold a husband liable for the debts of his deceased wife, there is no provision that specifically states the law also pertains to a wife being held liable for the debts of her deceased husband.
The Martin Methodist College foursome was bright and enthusiastic, but, among them, they had exactly zero experience in this kind of venture . . . and little time to figure it all out.
First came the brief that had to accompany their pre-event registration. The score given to the brief by the AMC3 judges would count for 30 percent of the team’s total in each round of competition. In other words, any shortcomings that the team experienced in writing the brief would continue to penalize them throughout the weekend, even as they gained insight into the whole moot court process. The Martin Methodist brief was written from the respondent’s perspective, and the scores given by the two judges – 72 and 76 – were solid, if not exemplary.
Then it was on to Nashville and the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature for the actual competition with the 14 teams paired up for the initial first-round hearings and then re-paired up for a second hearing. The Martin Methodist team members planned to observe the opening hearings to give them a sense of what a mock trial experience would entail, but as luck would have it, they learned they were scheduled for the very first hearing of the entire Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge, going up against Nashville State Community College. To complicate matters, Martin Methodist would be arguing for the . . . petitioner.
"We had prepared our entire brief from the perspective of the respondent, and in the first hearing we’re assigned to side of the petitioner," Poirier recalled with a smile, "and we didn’t even have a chance to watch another group in action first. It couldn’t have started any worse than that."
Their opening argument, the MMC students admit, was a struggle, but they had a strong rebuttal of Nashville State’s points and exited the hearing with some valuable experience. Their second hearing of that opening round was against Bryan College of Dayton, Tenn., and the team members sensed that they performed better. In the second round, they went into hearings against Tennessee Tech and East Tennessee State. With Poirier and Biddy doing the talking and Calkins and Rosson providing ongoing, behind-the-scenes research, Martin Methodist’s team felt a touch more comfortable and confident with every courtroom appearance.
Martin Methodist College was one of the eight teams advancing to the semifinals on Saturday, where the MMC team had one of its finest performances against Tennessee Tech in its first semifinal hearing and followed that with a strong argument in a rematch against Nashville State.
"We really felt good about those two hearings," Calkins said.
Of course, there were unexpected bumps for every team throughout the weekend, and for Martin Methodist, one of the issues was the sport coat . . . or lack thereof.
"It was stated in the guidelines that all male participants would wear a suit jacket with their shirt and ties," Poirier said, "but I had ruined mine just before we left for Nashville. Ben decided he would not wear his so he wouldn’t show me up, so to speak, and while none of the justices ever called us on it, almost every team we faced mentioned it at some point."
Nonetheless, when word came down after midnight on Saturday which four teams would advance to the AMC3 finals on Sunday morning, Rhodes, Tennessee Tech and Vanderbilt were joined by . . . Martin Methodist College.
"The finalists were announced around 1 a.m., and we had to be ready to go against Vanderbilt at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning," Poirier said. "We would be the only team in the final four that didn’t have a coach, so we prepared as best we could, and then thought, ‘We’ll shoot for third . . . maybe even second. Let’s just keep doing what we’re doing.’"
The Vanderbilt hearing went better than expected, considering the pedigree of the opposition. Then came a rematch against Tennessee Tech.
"It was our best hearing of the weekend," Poirier said as Calkins nodded in agreement.
At this point, it was just past noon on Sunday, Nov. 20, and the General Assembly of the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature was convening for the final time before adjournment. All the TISL lawmakers were present on the state capitol floor, including Martin Methodist’s three participants: Chloe Davenport, a sophomore history major from Belvidere, Tenn., in the House of Representatives; and Blake Malugin, a senior business administration major from Summertown, Tenn., and Esther Hernandez, a freshman pre-nursing major from Smithville, Tenn., in the Senate.
The four remaining AMC3 teams were seated in the balcony.
"They were running late to finish the weekend," Poirier said, "so someone just came to the podium and said, ‘Results in the Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge: Vanderbilt, second; and Martin Methodist College, first.’ We were stunned; we certainly didn’t expect to get that far, but the look on the Vanderbilt’s team members’ faces said it all. It was a look of ‘What just happened?’ Seeing that was worth it all."
To be sure, the "no coach, no coats, no chance" team from Martin Methodist College were the longest of long shots to capture the 2011 Appellate Moot Court Collegiate Challenge. Not even the four members of the team would have dared imagined such an outcome, but Raleigh Calkins, Crystal Rosson, Ben Biddy and Michael Poirier – by their own estimation – had their teamwork primed to machine-like efficiency.
"We really worked well together," Poirier said. "There is no way in the world we could have done this without all four of us. Ben and I, as anyone who knows us will attest, are sort of ‘fire and ice’ when we get into a discussion, so we complemented each other well in speaking for our team, and Raleigh and Crystal just did an amazing job on the research end and keeping our arguments well informed.
"I think we made a point," he continued. "A lot of teams had elaborate answers prepared, and they would kind of circle around the questions asked to them until they could get to those prepared answers. The four of us, with no coach there with us, just tried to take each question as it was presented to us, and I think that worked to our advantage with the justices."
While Martin Methodist didn’t have a coach present for the weekend, the team did have a strong supporter back home in Bill Rutherford, professor of history and chair of the social science division. His pride, he said, is shared by the entire faculty and student body.
"The MMC faculty is very proud of our 2011 TISL representatives," Rutherford said. "Their victory is a true reflection of the high quality of students represented at Martin Methodist. Our delegation has generated a lot of positive conversation on our campus. I can only imagine the conversation generated by our team at Rhodes, Tennessee Tech and Vanderbilt."
If you haven't already, get started on your online application and save time later. It's easy, just click the button below.