PSU Students Debate Harvard Law Students

May 3rd, 2007 by Adam

A well-known proverb states, “Competition is the whetstone of talent.” If that’s the truth, then a group of PSU students gained a lot of expertise after traveling to Cambridge Mass., for a unique competition with Harvard Law School students. A mock trial April 28 put 10 PSU students up against a group of Harvard Law third-year students in a courtroom setting. The event was conceived and organized by PSU adjunct professor Eric MacLeish and Harvard Law’s preeminent law professor, Alan Dershowitz. The mock trial centered on a fictitious case of a suspected terrorist being held by U.S. authorities.

Omar Faisal is the popular leader of a Pittsburgh mosque. He is a United States citizen and generally steers clear from politics or criticism of government policy makers. But when the government receives a tip that Faisal may be involved in a plot to detonate a nuclear “dirty bomb” in Portland, Maine, the Federal Anti-Terrorist Task Force decides to take a closer look.

What the Task Force finds is disturbing. Faisal’s father is an Egyptian with ties to a radical group, the Islamic brotherhood. Faisal has made recent trips to Egypt and also appears to have visited the Cayman Islands, a country renowned for its bank secrecy laws. The anonymous tipster calls back; and this time his information is more specific; Faisal and his associates rented a truck in Pittsburgh, drove to Baltimore to pick up the device (stored in a barrel) and then delivered it to Maine and drove home. Credit card records from the mosque and rental truck records are obtained which document the truck rental and mileage. Still, there is nothing to tie Faisal directly to either the alleged plot or the rental. What potentially hangs in balance is the fate of Portland Maine, a city of almost 250,000 and 35,000 children.

Faisal is picked up by the FBI and refuses to talk. His lawyer is well know for his representation of radical Islamic terrorists, including some of those involved in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Another call is received. The device is set to go off the following day. Thus far, everything the caller has said has checked out.

The Task Force decides it cannot wait. Faisal is picked up. He still refuses to talk. The Task Force then decides to petition a special (and secret) national security court for authorization to torture Faisal using the “waterboarding” technique advocated by Vice President Dick Cheney, where a prisoner is enveloped by duct tape and water poured in his mouth to simulate a near drowning. Lawyers are appointed to represent Faisal and the government.

Both sides advocated their cases before MacLeish and Dershowitz, who were acting as judges. The pair are friends and have served as co-counsel in several trials. The PSU contingent was not overwhelmed with the prestigious setting and formidable legal opposition, according to Dershowitz, one of the country’s foremost legal experts.

“The Plymouth students were great,” said Dershowitz. “The decisions in both cases were in their favor. I hope some of them decide to become lawyers. They would be first rate.”

“These students worked tirelessly in preparation for this debate at Harvard Law School,” said MacLeish. “They received no extra credit, but did this to represent PSU and to hone their advocacy skills. We look forward to making this an annual event.”

“Some have compared our team to the ‘Bad News Bears,” said MacLeish, referring to the movie about the underdog Little League Team that won the state championship. “While not all of our students are interested in becoming lawyers, the debate over the use of torture by our government is not strictly a legal issue. This entire exercise shows that advocacy is a skill that can be taught and learned. No matter what your eventual professional field, whether law, business, education or even medicine, knowing how to advocate is critical.”

Laura Ray was one of those selected. “I am looking forward to this tremendously,” said Ray.
“Simply stated, I wanted to kick some Harvard butt. It’s a great school, but we also have some incredibly talented students who have thrown themselves into this project. It would be unwise to bet against us.”

Ray’s father is a local attorney who will attend the event. “I told him at the beginning of the year I lacked the aggressiveness to follow in his footsteps,” admitted Laura Ray. “Now, I am not so sure.”

MacLeish says the mock trial event at Harvard proved to his students they can be successful in a prestigious and ultra-competitive academic environment. “I am extremely proud of the work these students did and I am particularly impressed with how much they have improved over the course of the semester.”

PSU students participating in the mock trial included Chris Gerta, Joseph Pipitone, Keith McEwen, Stefanie Webb, Laura Ray, John Ramsey, Alex Yeaw, Craig Johnson, Stacy DiSabato and Nick Turco.

For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or