Chicago-Kent Trial Advocacy Team Wins Regional AAJ Competition

  • By Kayla Molander

Five Chicago-Kent College of Law students are heading to the national finals of the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition. The team won all 15 of the ballots in the regional competition on March 2–5, 2023.

The fictional case involved a widow who was suing her late husband’s former employer after he was killed on the job. The widow alleged that poor training and disregard for safety led to her husband’s death.

Cole Gunter ’23 and Jack DeBacker ’24 represented the plaintiff. Gunter began arguments passionately, explaining the negligence that led to his client’s husband’s death. DeBacker, as master of evidence, was able to cut through the hearsay and present tough legal arguments clearly. His closing earned him perfect 10s in the semifinal round. This was only his second competition.

Paige Bareck ’24 and Nicholas (Nic) Zito ’23 represented the defendant. Bareck presented two complex affirmative defenses, including a murder theory. Her delivery was engaging, with varying tones and precises gestures. She also cross-examined the widow with compassion and respect. Zito was agile and able to alter his planned questions due to what had already transpired in the trial. His deftness in guiding witnesses was the team’s favorite part of the trial.

Lastly, Emanuel “Manny” Centeno ’24 was the team’s trail technician. He created detailed PowerPoints for each part of the trial. He was ready to pull up depositions or give a perfectly timed pointer. His ability to act as the glue for the team kept them on their game through the entire competition.

The team had only three and a half weeks to prepare but were guided to success by a team of coaches: Kristen Capizzi ’18, Lilly Mashayek ’20, Alex Rafajko ’20, and Mike Zhang ’15..

The Student Trial Advocacy Competition is one of the largest law student mock trial competitions in the country with 160 teams competing. Chicago-Kent is one of 20 teams that will compete in nationals in New Orleans on March 30–April 2. The winning team members are awarded a scholarship and are invited to attend the annual AAJ convention in July.

Photo: (clockwise from top left) Paige Bareck, Emanuel Centeno, Nicholas Zito, Cole Gunter, and Jack DeBacker [provided]

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