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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Although I enjoy judging moot court, I don't usually get asked to preside at the Mugel competition. Named for the late Al Mugel, an alum and a tax practitioner and a tax professor at UB, this competition, long a signature event for my law school, focuses on tax law. Once tax was the thing my school was known for; now I'm told it is not even a required course. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that the Mugel competition, Buffalo's claim to fame on the national moot court circuit, seems to be on the ropes. Entries were down, and the Moot Court Board was so strapped for judges that not only was I asked this year, I was asked to put the arm on as many of my friends as I could. I have no idea if my invitation to participate garnered any assistance, but this evening, just after I got home I got a call from my friend and clerk, coincidentally the Moot Court Board president, and was asked if I could come down tonight-- a day earlier than I'd planned, to fill an 8:00 o'clock vacancy that had just developed.

It's flattering to be asked to participate in this sort of thing at all, frankly, and to be the fireman was certainly more than I could turn down so I made the scene. Since I am not a tax jock, I was hoping that the other volunteers on the panel would do the heavy lifting on the substance. Usually there are three judges on a panel in the preliminary rounds, but tonight the cat who was supposed to fill out our panel never showed, so there were just two of us. The students who were competing were quite good, and my co-panelist, thank goodness, was a tax practitioner who was able to waltz them around the Code, even as I was trying to get my mind around the issues. In the end I think they had an experience that was probably pretty close to what actual appellate argument is like. I have to say, though, that I felt like I was working nearly as hard as they were.

I mention it because I am disappointed with every single person who got the invitation and didn't respond, as well as with the people who just bailed out. Frankly, the lawyers who were invited but couldn't make the time are not on my list of star members of our glamour profession either. It is a small enough thing to give up a part of a Thursday or Friday evening to help train the lawyers we'll be practicing with in the years to come. And it is an important thing, I think, to help promote the law school that made it possible for us to practice this pleasant living. Judging moot court is an easy way to keep your mind nimble, and I can't believe that in the whole Eighth Judicial District there weren't enough lawyers available to fill the bench for an event like this. Hell, it's not like it's work-- I learned something about the state of the law that I did not know this evening (and got CLE credit-- no small thing)-- and I had fun. I'm on deck for tomorrow, but I'd feel a lot better about my colleagues if I don't get the call.

I'm not sure where I take this particular gripe next. By virtue of my clerk's involvement, I have a pretty good idea about the amount of effort that went into recruting judges this year-- I've seen get out the vote drives that were less intense, and if it had come down to offering transportation I have a feeling it could have been arranged. The lack of support from the legal community on this falls right into the laps of our bench and bar-- and I'm embarrassed by it. We do our profession no favors this way, and I'm upset enough that I'm inclined to push the matter a little bit further.

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