Ellen Ward ’24 and Samantha Paradela ’24 win 2023 Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court Competition

Ellen Ward and Samantha Paradela won the 2023 Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court Competition held at Vanderbilt Law School on Feb. 3, receiving the John A. Cortner Award and a cash prize.

Moot Court winners Ellen Ward and Samantha Paradela, Class of 2024

They faced finalists Rachel Wagner and Madison Porth in the competition’s final round, which was argued before a panel of three federal judges, including Judge Andre B. Mathis of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and Judge Eli J. Richardson ’92 of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

Finalists Madison Porth and Rachel Wagner, Class of 2024

Porth argued in place of Evan Donaldson, who could not attend the final round.

Zoebedeh Malakpa received the award for Best Oralist, and the team of Raghav Gupta and Michael Bennett were recognized for the Best Brief. Semi-finalists included Emma White, Madison Porth, Alissa Osberg and Betsy Sugar.

All contestants are members of the Class of 2024.

Judges Andre Mathis, Robin Rosenbaum and Eli Richardson ’92 presided over the competition.

The Vanderbilt Moot Court Board conducts the competition each year. Twenty-seven teams participated in the 2023 competition, which began last September with 27 teams and 54 second-year students. Executive Justice for the Intramural Competition Kendall Jordan and Associate Justices Morgan Hess, Ryan Jones and Henry Woods organized and ran the competition.

Contestants argued U.S. v. Pontecorvo, a problem written by Executive Problem Editor John Misey and Associate Problem Editor Jacqueline Beveridge that raised two issues of constitutional law: whether police use of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone, to peer inside a skylight constitutes an unconstitutional search under the Fourth Amendment, and whether a federal statute that prohibits photography of classified military installations without the permission of the commanding officer is unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

The respondent, Carmine Portocorvo, successfully appealed his federal conviction after he used a hand-held, optical zoom camera to take a photograph of Air Base Avellino while leading a protest of local residents unhappy with the military base’s use of valuable local land. Portocorvo took the photograph while standing on a street outside the base, and the photograph revealed nothing pertaining to national security. However, his actions violated a federal statute that prohibits photography of classified military installations without permission of the commanding officer.

After the protest, Detective Matthew Harris tracked Portocorvo down to a private residence based on confidential tips and a stake-out by an Air Base security guard. Harris used a drone, which hovered for two minutes over a house where Harris suspected Portocorvo was staying, to surveil the house’s interior through a skylight. After two minutes of surveillance, the security guard identified Portocorvo, who was then arrested.

Portocorvo argued that the law prohibiting photography was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and asked that those charges be dismissed on that basis. He also filed a motion to suppress the evidence collected via the drone camera that resulted in his arrest, claiming it violated his Fourth Amendment protections. The District Court denied both arguments, and Portocorvo was subsequently convicted on these and other charges. He appealed, and the Twelfth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed both decisions on review, drawing a bitter dissent from one judge on the panel. The government appealed, and the Supreme Court granted cert.

Ward and Paradela represented the government in the case, while Wagner and Porth represented the respondent, Carmine Pontecorvo.

The John A. Cortner Award, which goes to the winners of Vanderbilt’s annual Bass Berry & Sims Moot Court competition, honors John Cortner ’86, who served as the Moot Court Board’s chief justice. Cortner joined Bogle & Gates in Seattle after graduation but was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma soon after and died within the year. His family endowed the award in 1988 in his memory.

Chief Justice Kristen Smith leads Vanderbilt Moot Court Board. Executive Justice Benjamin Geller manages the ABA traveling teams and Associate Justice Grant Baker managed a program for 1Ls. All Moot Court Board members will graduate in May 2023.