Successful Fifth Annual Capitol City Challenge Welcomes 18 Teams from Across the Country

More Than 120 Experienced Judges, Prosecutors, Public Defenders, and Private Practice Attorneys Served as Competition Evaluators


The Stephen S. Weinstein Trial Advocacy Program and The Mock Trial Honor Society recently hosted the annual Capitol City Challenge (“CCC”) at American University Washington College of Law.

The annual competition is in its fifth year. Teams from 18 law schools participated in the competition, with more than 120 state and federal judges, prosecutors, public defenders, and private practice attorneys serving as competition evaluators.

There were six rounds of competition in total—three preliminary rounds, a quarterfinal round, a semifinal round, and a final round. Two of the preliminary rounds of the competition occurred at the law school with the remaining four rounds at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

The CCC organizers distributed the 75-page case file to competitors six weeks before the competition. Professor Elizabeth Lippy, co-director of the Capitol City Challenge and assistant director of the Trial Advocacy Program, co-wrote the problem with AUWCL student Shailee Diwanji, a 3L. It took nearly seven months to write the case file.

“The problem was a criminal case, United States of America v. Jamie Winstone, charging a violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act,” said Lippy. “The students that were here from throughout the nation got to put on an entire trial from start to finish, so they did an opening statement, direct examination, cross examination, as well as a closing argument. The judges and practicing attorneys evaluated them based on their presentation skills and abilities in the courtroom.”

Emphasizing the Use of Technology

The opening ceremony of the competition included a welcome reception and a challenge ceremony, which determined first-round pairings. During the challenge ceremony, team representatives drew a number from one to 18. Then, the teams got to choose who they would challenge in the first round, starting with the team that picked the number one. The team that received the challenge then chose whether they would argue prosecution or defense.

Students competed in classrooms throughout WCL, including in the Stephen S. Weinstein mock trial courtroom where they utilized two large television screens to project exhibits and power point presentations. Sarah Thomas, 3L and one of two student directors from the Mock Trial Honor Society, said the high-tech feature of the competition helps students become more comfortable integrating technology into their case presentations.

“We emphasize the use of technology because that’s what’s being used in courtrooms today,” said Thomas. “We want to make sure that students are ready for the high-tech courtrooms that they’ll be using when they graduate.”

Organizing a Competition

Organizers added a new component to the final round this year, an abbreviated jury voir dire.

“In order to simulate a realistic trial experience, we had 15 jurors come in so the students could select their evaluators through a jury voir dire,” said Thomas. “All of our panelists filled out questionnaires that the advocates viewed beforehand. Once the jury entered the courtroom, the Honorable Erik P. Christian, the presiding judge in the final round, asked follow-up questions from the bench. Each team was allowed unlimited strikes for cause and 3 preemptory challenges.”

Georgetown University Law Center won the final round of Capitol City Challenge by defeating New York University School of Law.

David Chee, 3L and member of the Mock Trial Society served as a bailiff for one of the preliminary rounds. He said that organizing the competition was a great way for the mock trial members to get an inside look at how a competition is run.

“It’s one thing to compete in a competition, and it’s another thing to run a competition, to make sure all the judges are properly informed, and that everyone knows what’s going on with all of the logistics,” said Chee. “This is our opportunity to show the rest of the country our own Mock Trial Society, our Trial Advocacy program, and all of our great professors, while running a well-organized competition here at American University Washington College of Law.”

Participating law schools included: Georgetown University Law Center, Brooklyn Law School, University of Houston Law Center, Villanova University School of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law, New York University School of Law, Fordham University Law School, George Mason University School of Law, St. John's University School of Law, University of South Dakota School of Law, Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law, Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, William and Mary School of Law, Widener Law School, Hofstra University School of Law, Golden Gate University School of Law, and Northern Kentucky University’s Chase College of Law.