It was standing room only inside the Chapman University Fowler School of Law’s appellate courtroom on Monday as two first-year law students delivered and defended their final arguments in the 2019 Rutan & Tucker Golden Gavel Competition.

This public exhibition capped off the annual competition, during which 1L students engage in oral argument based on briefs they write over the course of their spring Legal Research and Writing class.

After several rounds of competition the previous week, four semi-finalists were left standing on the evening of April 12: Alexander Cargill and Caitlin O’Bara for the defendant, and Alexis Jugan and Yara Wahba for the government. Although all the semi-finalists’ arguments were strong, in the end, Cargill and Wahba emerged as the two Golden Gavel winners, each earning a $500 scholarship and the coveted Golden Gavel award.

On Monday afternoon, they faced off in the final exhibition round presided by a panel of guest judges: U.S. District Court Judge Karen Scott, California Court of Appeal Associate Justice Thomas Goethals, and John Hurlbut, partner of the competition’s sponsoring firm, Rutan & Tucker, LLP.

Judges and finalists

Justice Thomas Goethals, Yara Wahba, Judge Karen Scott, Alexander Cargill, and John Hurlbut.

Following their deliberation, the judges—who pulled no punches during both the defense and prosecution’s arguments and rebuttals—unanimously praised the two finalists on their performance.

“It’s obvious why you’ve made it through rounds and are sitting here today,” said Goethals. “Both of you, in terms of answering questions, are as good or better than most lawyers I saw in court this morning.”

Hurlbut, who has also served as a Golden Gavel judge in previous years, noted that both Cargill and Wahba were exceptionally prepared and did a “very good” job of answering the judges’ inquiries without losing momentum on their argument.

“A lot of lawyers don’t answer the question directly,” Hurlbut said. “There was not a case mentioned you didn’t have an answer to.”

Rutan & Tucker, a prominent Orange County law firm, has a long history of investment in the mission of Chapman University and the Fowler School of Law. Several Fowler alumni are employed by the firm, including partners Jennifer Farrell, Brandon Sylvia, and Kenneth Zielinski.