We had the honor of representing Temple at The National Telecommunications and Technology Moot Court Competition on February 9th and 10th. The competition was held at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, located in Washington D.C.
All members of the Moot Court Competition Team participate in a competition during their 3L year. Competitions are held at law schools across the country, and involve a range of legal issues, including constitutional law, employment law, and telecommunications law, to name a few.
The National Telecommunications and Technology Competition began on December 8th, 2017 when each team received the competition problem. We had to analyze the problem and submit a brief which would count for half of our score in the first round of the competition. The problem involved two issues: (1) whether a local government had engaged in illegal jamming in violation of the Communications Act, and (2) whether the local government’s actions had also violated the First Amendment.
The disputed issues arose when a large hurricane struck the fictional Metrocity. The hurricane caused widespread damage, knocking out most roads and cell towers in the area. In response, a local news channel, WXVI, used two drones to provide coverage of the storm’s devastation. The information provided to first responders from the drone coverage directly led to the rescue of several citizens. After effectively utilizing the drones for several days, WXVI ran into a major problem. Metrocity had chosen to set up an emergency broadcast channel on the 5.8 Ghz frequency. This was the same frequency that WXVI used to communicate with its drones. The interference from the emergency broadcast channel jammed WXVI’s use of the 5.8 Ghz frequency, thereby grounding its drones.
A local government would generally be justified in setting up an emergency broadcast channel during a natural disaster. However, Metrocity never actually used the emergency channel for communication with first responders or citizens. Instead, Metrocity broadcast a constant signal of white noise over the emergency channel because local officials could not come to a consensus on what information to broadcast. Interestingly, there was also no evidence that emergency responders or citizens could receive communications at the 5.8 Ghz frequency.
WXVI’s CEO called the mayor of Metrocity to request that he halt the signal since it was not being used to broadcast information and it was preventing WXVI from using its drones. Instead of complying with the request, the mayor retorted, “Maybe if your coverage were more favorable to us, I’d be more sympathetic.” The jamming signal continued for another eight days until WXVI filed a petition with the FCC. The FCC ultimately found in favor of WXVI, holding that Metrocity’s constant signal constituted illegal jamming, in violation of the Communications Act. The FCC also held that the signal and the mayor’s comments violated WXVI’s rights under the First Amendment. Metrocity appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
At the competition, we progressed through four rounds of argument, switching between representing Metrocity and the FCC. Each round was judged by an esteemed panel of lawyers from the Federal Communications Bar, including former FCC commissioner Kathleen Abernathy. We were able to defeat teams from several law schools in order to reach the final round. At the finals, we argued on behalf of the FCC in front of dozens of lawyers and students against a team from The George Washington University Law School. Despite what we felt was a great argument, we narrowly finished in second place.
The competition was a great learning experience for both of us, and we will take a number of lessons with us as we enter the legal profession. These lessons include developing the ability to quickly learn about a new area of the law and to respond effectively to unexpected questions from the judges.
We should note that we benefitted from the outstanding coaching of Sue Affronti (LAW ’01), as well as the leadership of Professor Bonny Tavares, who advises the Moot Court Society.
Joe Bailey (LAW ’18) is a 2012 graduate of Cornell University. Following graduation from Temple, Joe will be clerking for a federal district court judge in Philadelphia and then working as an associate at Ballard Spahr LLP.
Eileen Bradley (LAW ’18) is a 2013 graduate of Fordham University. Following graduation from Temple, Eileen will be working as an associate at Marshall Dennehey in Philadelphia.