NAMC and Federal Bar

Richardson Law Students Represent Hawaiʻi at National Moot Court Competition and Federal Indian Law Conference

Letani Peltier, Post-J.D. Legal Fellow

UH Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law students brought home several top awards from the 26th Annual National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition held on March 2-4, at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Forty-Four teams across the country participated in the competition, which tests students’ brief-writing and oral advocacy skills within the context of federal Indian law. Richardson sent three two-person teams: Lianne Chung (’18) and Nick Ernst (EPT-’20); Mark Suzuki (’18) and Kaiwi Opulauoho (’18); and Travis Moon (’18) and Erin Fale (’18) – along with team coach and Ka Huli Ao Legal Fellow Letani Peltier (’17).

Despite the fierce competition, two of our teams managed to advance to the semi-final (“final four”) rounds and ultimately brought home a total of three different awards — one in each category. Nick and Lianne placed first for best brief (“Best Written Advocates”) and Mark and Kaiwi placed second overall (“Best Overall Advocates”). Additionally, Mark also placed first in the “Best Spoken Advocate” category.

Richardson’s Native American Moot Court Team with Derek Kauanoe (ʻ08)

The William S. Richardson School of Law, through its Native American Moot Court Team (NAMC), has participated in this annual competition since 1997 and to date has brought home over 40 awards — including 15 first place awards. The team’s consistent success can be attributed to its rigorous practice schedule as well as the strong support network made up of alumni and others who are part of the NAMC ʻohana. Team members spend the two months leading up to the competition refining their oral arguments, as well as their professional demeanor, in front of panels of practice judges. This year, the team argued in front of thirty different legal professionals including new associates, seasoned veteran attorneys, academics, and even actual sitting judges.

“NAMC was one of the most challenging experiences of my life — but also one of the most rewarding,” says Lianne Chung. “We worked hard — really hard. There were days when I thought I couldn’t do it – but I pushed through anyway. Because even when the judges were being critical and tearing apart our legal arguments, it was only because they knew it would make us stronger in the end. Ultimately, everyone who showed up to help us did so because they believed in us. They knew we could do it. Arriving at the competition, knowing we had the support of everyone back home . . . the feeling was indescribable.”

Indeed, being part of the Native American Moot Court Team creates a long-lasting bond with others who have gone through the same experience. Several NAMC alumni went out of their way to provide additional coaching and help with research during the training season — the team could not have made it as far without their help. During the competition, former NAMC member and coach Derek Kauanoe (’08) came to support the team, driving 115 miles, two days in a row, from the University of Arizona in Tucson where he is currently working on his LL.M. Derek’s support, along with his calming presence, made a huge difference. And unbeknownst to the team, Derek was texting live updates to his former classmates and team members while Mark and Kaiwi were arguing in the final round.

In addition to the moot court competition, Richardson also sent a small delegation to the National Native American Law Students Association’s (NNALSA) annual meeting held on April 5-6 at the Talking Stick Resort in Phoenix, Arizona. NNALSA was founded in 1970 to support law students interested in the study of federal Indian law, tribal law, and traditional forms of governance. Participation in NNALSA is a prerequisite to competing in the annual moot court competition. The annual meeting provides an opportunity to elect new officers and also to connect with students from around the nation. The annual meeting runs concurrently with the Federal Bar’s Indian Law Conference, which provides additional opportunities to network with professionals who advocate on behalf of tribes and other indigenous peoples.

Kaiwi Opulauoho (ʻ18), Ian Tapu (ʻ20), and Letani Peltier (ʻ17) at the National Native American Law Students Association’s Annual Meeting at the Federal Bar Indian Law Conference

At both the moot court competition and the NNALSA annual meeting, Richardson’s students represented Hawaiʻi with dignity, grace, and humility. They carried with them the spirit of aloha and the values passed down by Chief Justice William S. Richardson. Because ultimately, NAMC is about much more than just awards and accolades. It is about being challenged and rising to the occasion, advocacy for indigenous peoples around the world, and continuing the legacy of those who paved the way for us.