Drake Law School’s Supreme Court Celebration brought together law students, faculty and professionals for its 75th anniversary in March. This year’s events started with a prominent case that has garnered national attention; the Law School hosted the Iowa Supreme Court’s oral arguments in an appeal of Mark Becker’s murder conviction involving the insanity defense.
Attorneys for Becker, who was convicted of killing Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas in 2009, argued that Becker did not receive a fair trial two years ago because the jury received erroneous instructions. Because these instructions impeded the jury from coming to a proper verdict, Becker deserved a new trial, argued Martha Lucey, assistant appellate defender.
During the jurors’ 25 hours of deliberations on the 2009 case, they sent a note to the judge asking what the outcome would be for Becker if he were found not guilty. The judge responded that they should only consider Becker’s guilt, not possible punishments. The judge’s response was in line with the precedent in virtually all cases in Iowa. Multiple justices questioned during the oral arguments why this precedent should not apply in the Becker case.
Lawyers for the state ultimately contended that the language of the instructions did not qualify Becker for a new trial.
“Watching the oral arguments was a fascinating experience, particularly during those moments when it was clear that the justices asked a question that the advocate had not been expecting,” says Neal Marasinghe, a first-year law student. “The justices all had different styles of questioning, and all the advocates had their own unique argument styles as well, and it was informative to see that there wasn't necessarily ‘one right way’ to do things in an oral argument.”
Drake Law students also observed oral arguments for another case, which involved medical malpractice. Following the arguments, students participated in a question and answer session with the judges.
“As a law student, I learned a lot by observing the Iowa Supreme Court in action,” says Michelle Grau, a second-year law student. “I could not have asked for a better educational opportunity.”
The annual Supreme Court Celebration honors the Iowa Supreme Court for its commitment to justice and legal education and also honors Drake Law students, faculty, alumni and friends. The week’s events, and others the Court supports during the year, help law students become more familiar with appellate court procedure and their role in the justice system.
The final round of student arguments in the Supreme Court Competition took place at the Iowa Judicial Branch Building on March 31. Each year, outstanding advocates in the law school compete in the Supreme Court Competition for the honor of being one of four students to present final arguments to the Iowa Supreme Court. The problem is based upon a real case, using an actual record that was pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, giving competitors a realistic experience. Christina Thompson was awarded Best Oralist in the final round, a distinction given to the winner of the competition. Leslie Behaunek, Laurie Heron and Emily Zerkel were also finalists.
Later that day, the Supreme Court Celebration concluded with a banquet, a longstanding tradition at Drake Law School.
During the banquet alumni, students and professors received awards, including the Alumni of the Year Award, presented to Gregory Kenyon, LW’78, and the Leland Forrest Outstanding Professor of the Year Award, which was presented to Laurie Dore, the Ellis and Nelle Levitt Distinguished Professor of Law.
Student awards honored excellence in areas such as advocacy, exemplary professionalism and leadership. Recognition was also given to Drake Law Review and Drake Journal of Agricultural Law student contributors, Moot Court Board members and competitors, Mock Trial competitors, Arbitration Competition participants and others.
Senior Judge Joel D. Novak delivered the keynote address during the banquet. Novak accepted active judge senior status in September after 32 years on the bench serving Polk County’s Fifth Judicial District and now serves as judge in residence in Drake Law School’s Neal and Bea Smith Legal Clinic.
Other Supreme Court Celebration events included the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law Dinner, the Drake Law Review Dinner and the Drake Moot Court luncheon.