2021 Earl T. Zehmer Moot Court Competition

By Wesley G. Marshall

NWCJ Moot Court Committee Chair


The 2021 Earl T. Zehmer Moot Court Competition preliminary rounds are complete. The program was a smashing success. The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to present significant challenges for many educational programs. But the Moot Court organizers, with widespread support from the NAWCJ, managed a complex and effective program. The competition was hosted in a virtual format. Judges received advance training on accessing the online platform, dealing with the competitors, and completing online scoresheets. One benefit of the new format was that all of us judges who are notably horrible at math were not required to tally the individual columns of scores for some participants.

The competition included 20 teams from 12 law schools in 8 different states. NAWCJ had 42 volunteer judges from 8 states who participated. The first-place Brief award went to the University of Miami and the second-place Brief award ended in a tie, with honors to the Mississippi College School of Law and Baylor School of Law. The Best Individual Oral Advocate award went to Michelle Sola from the Florida International University College of Law.

The case problem, Bankson County Sheriff’s Office v. John Doe, Decedent, once again was artfully drafted by Florida attorney Richard Sicking. It concerned a fictional first responder’s death from COVID-19. For compensability, was the correct legal standard a “preponderance of the evidence,” under Section 112.1815, Fl. Stat., which grants preferential treatment to first responders who contract a disease from exposure to a “toxic substance?” If not, then the decedent’s beneficiaries had to prove the COVID-19 exposure from work by a “clear and convincing,” standard under Section 440.15(1)(a) Fl. Stat., a general occupational disease statute. The problem also included an issue of whether a medical examiner’s statement was competent medical evidence where he was not appointed by a judge of compensation claims, an independent medical examiner, or an authorized treating provider. This set up a conflict between the workers’ compensation medical evidence statute, Section 440.13(5)(e), and Section 406.11(1) and (2) which provides medical examiners may determine cause of death. Attorney Sicking’s problem was full of twists and turns for the student competitor and judges to debate.

The preliminary rounds could not have been a success without the support of you – our NAWCJ members. By all accounts, the virtual format allowed the students to hone their narratives very well, while still permitting judges to challenge them on their interpretations of the record and the law.

The two finalists in the competition will argue their cases to a panel of the Florida 1st District Court of Appeals on January 7, 2022 at 10:00 AM. The event will be live streamed for any of us geeky appellate judges who relish such stuff. Please go to the Florida 1st DCA website, click on oral arguments, and then select live stream video to access the arguments. The schools participating in the final competition will not be announced until after the oral arguments in the interest of fairness.

Many thanks to all the judges who participated in the Zehmer competition!