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The hard-fought final round of the annual Desmond Moot Court Competition on Friday drew about 50 people, including law students, friends and family members of the two teams, to the Francis M. Letro Moot Courtroom in O’Brian Hall on the North Campus of the University at Buffalo.

Three local legal professionals, all alumni of the UB Law School, acted as final-round judges for the competition, which involved a hypothetical constitutional case drawn from elements of real cases awaiting review before the U.S. Supreme Court.

New York State Court of Appeals Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. presided in the role of chief justice. He was joined by the State Supreme Court Justice Erin M. Peradotto and William J. Hochul Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Western District.

The hypothetical constitutional challenge was brought against the federal government by a state called “Desmond” that recognizes same-sex marriage.

The team of Phil A. Modrzynski and Adam R. Durst, representing the state of Desmond, claimed that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts the use of federal funds through such programs as Medicaid to opposite-sex married couples, violates states’ rights to define marriage and requires the state to discriminate against citizens based on sexual orientation.

The team of Caitlin M. Higgins and Kinsey A. O’Brien represented the government, specifically the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and the Department of Health and Human Services. They argued that the Defense of Marriage Act was constitutional and should be upheld.

The judges’ decision “was not made on the merits of the case, but on the advocacy skills of the competitors,” said UB Moot Court Board President Corey Forster.

After discussing the contest for about 15 minutes, which Forster noted was “an unusually long time to deliberate,” the panel named Higgins and O’Brien winners of the 2012 Desmond Moot Court Competition.

Modrzynski, O’Brien and Higgins are all from Buffalo; Durst is from Rochester. All four finalists are third-year students who will graduate in May, Forster said.

The two teams had survived several previous levels of competition to advance to the finals of the Moot Court event, which Forster said is “one of the highest profile events” in the school.

Two local attorneys – Kevin J. English of Phillips Lytle, and Lawrence J. Vilardo of Connors Vilardo – coached students in writing appellate briefs and preparing oral arguments for the Desmond Moot Court, as they have for several years.

The competition is named for the late Charles S. Desmond, an alumnus of the UB Law School who was the longtime chief judge of the State of New York.

email: aneville@buffnews.com