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St. John’s Artists Raise the Bar at 2017 Johnson Trial Competition

Kerr illustrates Johnson Competition
Illustration by Professor Thomas Kerr
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Last month, the Frank S. Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute (PTAI) at St. John’s Law hosted its annual Peter James Johnson '49 National Civil Rights Trial Competition.

Sixteen teams from law schools across the country competed, trying a civil rights case in front of panels of prestigious judges and practicing attorneys. This year’s competition fact pattern—once again crafted by Alex Gilbert '06 to rave reviews—was loosely based on the recent events in Flint, MI. The plaintiff, a single mother of a young child injured by contaminated city water, sued the manager of her city for hiding the water’s dangers through acts of mail and wire fraud.

The competitors displayed an impressive level of advocacy and professionalism throughout, arguing the preliminary rounds at Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola, and the quarterfinal, semifinals, and finals at St. John’s Law.

Occupying spectator seats during the later rounds were Elizabeth Castro, Tauhid Dewan, Dian Dolce, Terri Dorsey, Emily Guevara, Rachel Johnson, Erica Madera, and Cindy Nguyen, students in the Drawing for Illustration class taught by longtime Professor Thomas Kerr from the Department of Art and Design at St. John’s University.

“We’re always thinking of ways to enhance the curriculum for our majors,” Professor Kerr says of this first-time collaboration between his department and the Law School. “When developing the course syllabus, I wanted to get the students out of the studio and into a setting where they could use their drawing skills in a documentary capacity.”

Prior to the competition, the illustration students observed demonstrations and took tutorials in documentation from life with subjects on the move. “Unlike a studio environment where students can consult with a professor, in the Moot Court Room, the student sketch artists were flying solo,” Kerr explains. “As the court was called to order, pencil, ink, and charcoal were delivered to the students’ pages.”

View Student Drawings

View Professor Kerr’s Drawings

“It was a memorable experience,” Professor Kerr shares. “My students were impressed with the preparation, strategic thinking, and professionalism displayed by the teams as they made their cases.” In the finals, St. John’s Law Dean Michael A. Simons presided as judge, assisted on the bench by Joanne Filiberti of Leahey & Johnson. P.C. After a dynamic round, Louisiana State University was named the winner and Suffolk Law School came away with an impressive second place finish.

“I really enjoyed organizing and running this year’s competition,” says Christina Mavrikis '18, PTAI’s director of special events. “As a mock trial competitor, I now appreciate how much work goes into competitions behind the scenes. It’s was also interesting to see how each team brings its own unique style to the courtroom, and to watch the student artists capture all those wonderful stylistic differences on paper.”

About the Peter James Johnson '49 National Civil Rights Trial Competition
Organized by PTAI, the Peter James Johnson National Civil Rights Trial Competition is the only national civil rights trial competition in the nation. In 2008, the competition was renamed in honor of the late Peter James Johnson, Sr. '49, a St. John’s Law graduate who dedicated his legal career to excellence in the practice of law and who is widely remembered as a "Warrior for Justice."