March 09, 2018

How Sweet It Is: Gonzaga Law’s Inaugural Sweetser Closing Argument Competition

On February 17, 2018, Gonzaga Law hosted the first annual Sweetser Closing Argument Competition sponsored by the Sweetser Law Office. Jim ('84) and his son, Marcus wanted to create a competition that allowed students to argue for civil justice and money damages on a personal injury or civil rights case, try their oral advocacy skills, and get feedback from experienced trial attorneys and judges. Most of all, they wanted the competition to be fun, educational, and easy for students to show up and participate.

Over 20 first, second, and third year students showed up. They were given a fact pattern, a few key jury instructions, and one hour to prepare a closing argument. Students were then allowed a maximum of 15 minutes to argue the bank breached its duty of reasonable care and for money damages for the injuries. Their arguments were video-recorded and reviewed by a panel of experienced attorneys. First place received $2,500, second place $1,000, and third place $500.

According to the nine-page fact pattern, fictional character Blaine Magnuson had sued a local community bank. Magnuson claimed that the bank was negligent when it designed its parking lot because it left a trip hazard where people would not expect it to be. Hours after attending a meeting at the business next door to the bank parking lot, while walking back to his car around the back of the building, he did not see the hazard and tripped. After several surgeries, his knee still caused him pain and doctors diagnosed Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, a rare and incurable syndrome, also known as Suicide Syndrome.

The fact pattern includes the intricate ownership history of the parking lot and its history of use, safety standards from the American Society of Safety Engineers, Magnuson’s medical information and costs, personal details about his life before and after the accident, as well as photos of the lot, the bank, pictures illustrating the fracture and an X-ray of Magnuson’s knee. Students also received jury instructions on an owner’s duty to a licensee, negligence, and damages. Then they had one hour to integrate all of this information into a persuasive closing argument.

Group photo of Sweetser Competition finalists with Jim and Marcus Sweetser

On February 27, 2018, Sweetser Law Office sponsored a catered reception to announce the winners. Students gathered to watch the top video closing arguments and to provide insights into their experience as trial attorneys. When the dust settled, second-year student Anthony Bandiero was the winner and received the first-place prize. Michael Merkelbach, also a second-year student, placed second and Kristopher Morton, a third-year student, placed third.

"The presentations were outstanding and truly impressive," Jim Sweetser reported. "Sweetser Law Office thanks all the students who had the courage to show up. The presentations are evidence Gonzaga Law School grads will make some of the best trial lawyers in the country."

The panel of volunteer judges included Lynn Daggett, who holds Gonzaga Law’s Smithmoore P. Myers Chair and Professor of Law as well as two Assistant Professors of Law Jessica Kiser and Genevieve Mann. Mann is also the Director of Gonzaga’s Elder Law Clinic. Matt Albrecht, a local plaintiff’s attorney and double Zag, (B.A., ’98 and J.D., ’05), rounded out the panel. Jim Sweetser presented a plague to Gonzaga Law School with Anthony Bandiero’s name engraved to hang in the appropriate location to commemorate past and future winners.