Law Students Simulate Court

Third-year Harvard Law School students debated First Amendment issues concerning obscenity on the Internet in a moot court competition held last night in the Ames Courtroom of Austin Hall.

About 350 people attended the mock trial, which marked the 84th annual Ames Moot Court Competition held at the Law School. The competition was founded in 1817.

This year's case, Richard Smith v. United States, concerns an incident in which a man used his computer bulletin board system to disseminate obscene materials, raising questions regarding free speech on the Internet. The case was based on the real-life case United States v. Thomas, which was tried in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and is currently pending in the Sixth Circuit.

The guest justices presiding over the competition were Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Rosemary Barkett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Breyer, who teaches a course on administrative law at the Law School, served as chief justice of the moot court.

The team representing the petitioner in the case was composed of Law School students Matt Bodie, Harry Chernoff, Gia Lee, Sam Liccardo, Jay Prabhu and Rich Schragger.

The team representing the respondent was composed of Bathsheba Crocker, Kim Parker, Mark Quarterman, David Schwimmer, Jeff Simes and Colin Stretch.


The competition is a three-year-long process, beginning with a single elimination tournament among law students during their first year. The two winning teams compete during their third year at the Law School.

Michael Chmura, news director for the Law School, said that receiving an award in the competition is as prestigious as being elected as a member of the Law Review.

According to Chmura, several current faculty members were at one point finalists in the Ames Moot Court Competition.

At one point, Breyer asked whether two people shouting obscenities across a state line would constitute a violation of the Federal Statute prohibiting the "transport of obscene materials."

The petitioners claimed that the statute did not apply to the medium of electronic mail. Williams asked if the petitioners did not agree that the standards of cyberspace should be the same as those "on earth."

In the final analysis, the victory was handed to the petitioners. Awards were presented to David Schwimmer for "Best Oral Argument" and to the petitioners for "Best Brief."

"It was a great showing by both sides," said Law School Dean Robert C. Clark. "I thought it was extremely lively and interesting. In general I was very impressed. It engaged me thoroughly."

Before announcing the winners, Breyer said, "We found it very, very hard to choose. This is one of the best we have heard.