Law School Hosts 2018 Peter James Johnson '49 National Civil Rights Trial Competition

Johnson Competition Sketch by Professor Tom Kerr

Illustration by St. John's University Professor Thomas Kerr

October 24, 2018

On October 18–21, 2018, St. John’s Law, the Frank S. Palestino Trial Advocacy Institute (PTAI), the Center for Trial and Appellate Advocacy, and the Nassau County courts hosted the annual Peter James Johnson ’49 National Civil Rights Mock Trial Competition.

The competition is named for the late Peter James Johnson '49, co-founder of Leahey & Johnson, P.C. As a litigator, he fought corruption at many levels: in corporations, unions, and political parties. Prior to graduating from St. John’s Law, Johnson was an NYPD officer and saw combat as a U.S. marine at Iwo Jima. His son, Peter James Johnson, Jr., carries his father’s proud legacy as a renowned litigator and steadfast presence at the competition. 

This year, 16 teams from across the country competed, arguing Stars and Bars—Black and Blue: A Failure to Act Claim, a fact pattern developed by Alex Gilbert '06 and Brian Hughes '07. The hypothetical civil case involved a protestor who was assaulted and injured during a demonstration at a Civil War monument. The plaintiff asserted that the police permitted the attack because they disagreed with his political views. The participating schools were:

  • Antonin Scalia School of Law at George Mason Univesity
  • Boston University School of Law
  • Brooklyn Law School
  • Emory University School of Law
  • Fordham University School of Law
  • Louisiana State University Paul M. Herbert Law Center (quarter-finalist)
  • Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University (semi-finalist)
  • New York University School of Law (finalist)
  • South Texas College of Law Houston (finalist)
  • Suffolk University Law School
  • The John Marshall Law School (Chicago) (quarter-finalist)
  • University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law (semi-finalist)
  • University of Houston Law Center (quarter-finalist)
  • University of Illinois College of Law (quarter-finalist)
  • Vilanova University Charles Widger School of Law
  • William and Mary Law School

Displaying an impressive level of advocacy and professionalism, the competitors argued the preliminary rounds at Nassau County Supreme Court in Mineola, and the quarterfinal, semifinals, and finals at St. John’s Law. In the end, NYU Law bested South Texas College of Law Houston in a final round before a prestigious panel of judges that included attorneys:

  • Al Constants
  • Steven Dalton 
  • Veronica Renta Irwin
  • Anthony Matturro
  • Kevin Meneilly ‘59

“I’m incredibly proud of the competitors and of PTAI’s student leaders—particularly Executive Director Emily Santoro '19 and Special Events Director Kathleen Modica '19—for their hard work on such a well-run competition,” says Professor and Associate Dean Larry Cunningham, who directs the Center for Trial and Appellate Advocacy. “Also instrumental in the competition’s success were St. John’s Law staffers Iris Diaz, Jean Nolan, and Maureen Gillespie; Hon. Jeffrey A. Goodstein, acting justice of the Nassau County Supreme Court; and Daniel Bagnuola, director of the Court’s Office of Community Relations.”

For the second consecutive year, students from the Drawing for Illustration class taught by Professor Thomas Kerr from the Department of Art and Design at St. John’s University occupied spectator seats and sketched the competitors in action, adding to the event’s real-world atmosphere. The student artists were: Maria Anania, Andrew Jiang, Alexander Juarez, Shiya Li, Jessica Pinto, Devonni Pollard, Paul Proto, and Jesse Wyatt.

View Competition Sketches

“Organizing this competition was a wonderful experience,” Modica says. “As a mock trial competitor, I now understand all the hard work that goes into coordinating and running these competitions. It was great to collaborate with such talented student advocates, and to watch how they developed their arguments and theories. My favorite part was working with the lawyers who volunteered to evaluate the competition because they were all genuinely interested in the advocates’ success. The experience was even more rewarding because we had talented artists in the courtroom, which is a unique feature of our competition. The teams were extremely excited to take their sketches home, as special mementos of their mock trial skills in action.”