Sutter O’Connell Coaches Akron Law School to Second Place in Major National Trial Competition

Posted on October 30th, 2018 by Matthew C. O’Connell

Continuing Larry Sutter’s legacy of mentoring young lawyers, Sutter O’Connell attorney Kevin Kita coached the University of Akron School of Law’s Trial Team to second place in the prestigious NBTA Tournament of Champions (TOC) this past weekend. The TOC is an invitation-only mock trial tournament that extends offers to the top 16 programs in the country based on recent performance in major national competitions. This year’s competition was hosted in Philadelphia by Drexel University, and the competing teams were from Stetson University, University of Chicago-Kent, Baylor University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, University of Missouri Kansas City, University of Alabama, Syracuse University, University of California Hastings, Wake Forest University, University of California Berkley, Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, University of Arizona, Belmont University, and California Western School of Law. The University of Akron was represented by students Cassandra Rosa (3L), Imokhai Okolo (2L), Alicia Harrison (3L), and Ashley Lanz (3L).

An employment discrimination suit loosely based on the famous 1993 film “Philadelphia” featuring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington and now being celebrating on 25th anniversary of its release. In the Tournament’s adaptation, a promising 7th year associate named Andrew Beckett, appearing to be on track for partnership at a major Philadelphia law firm, was denied partnership in favor of another associate; and then fired approximately 6 months after revealing she was transgender and changing her name to Andrea. The Plaintiff alleged the motivating factor behind each decision was her status as a transgender person. The Defendant defended the decision pointing to issues with performance, ethical concerns, and firm economics as legitimate business reasons for its decision. The teams from each school prepared both sides of the case and in multiple trials represented alternate sides of the case. Trials were decided by a panel of judges comprised of Federal District Court judges, and practicing trial counsel from the area who scored the student advocates based on their skills in opening statement, direct and cross examination, closing argument and knowledge of the rules of evidence.

Akron’s team, over the course of two days, swept through the preliminary rounds of the tournament with a record of 4-0 (winning twice on each side of the case) against very stiff competition from Georgetown, Belmont, California Western, and Baylor. Akron’s team earned the #2 overall seed heading into the semi-finals on Sunday morning. There, they faced #3 seeded Loyola (Los Angeles), and won a hotly contested match 2-1 to advance to the finals, where they were bested by Wake Forest University.

This was the fifth consecutive year, and eighth time in ten years, that Akron earned an invitation to the NBTA Tournament of Champions.  The second place finish was Akron’s best finish in the tournament since 2007.  Larry Sutter also coached the team to victory in 2003.