A standing-room-only appellate courtroom on the second floor of Kennedy Hall was the venue for this year’s annual Rutan & Tucker Golden Gavel Competition, where two seemingly unflappable 1L students prepared to make their final arguments before three guest judges. If 2023’s Golden Gavel finalists Hannah Hamblin (plaintiff) and Kristin Sinks (defendant) had any pre-appearance jitters, it certainly did not show as they awaited the bailiffs’ (2022 winner Jodee Sullivan) instructions ahead of the arrival of this year’s judges, Judge John Owens of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Judge Nathan Vu of the Superior Court of California, Orange County, and Lisa Neal, a partner at Rutan & Tucker the sponsoring firm of the event.

The Fowler School of Law’s annual Golden Gavel Competition is the result of an entire semester’s worth of work by first-year law students, where students are required to present oral arguments based on points of federal law that they research as part of their Legal Analysis, Writing, and Research course. Following the early elimination rounds, eight students emerged to contest this year’s prize: plaintiff advocates included Hannah Hamblin, Kevin Hennessy, Sophia Laws, and Lindsey Roth; while the defendant advocates were Paul Holzmann, Joseph Kahn, Lauren Oliveri, and Kristin Sinks. Fierce debate in the final rounds saw Hannah Hamblin (plaintiff) and Kristin Sinks (defendant) both securing a final round place, the Golden Gavel award and the honor of appearing before the esteemed judges’ panel.

Both advocates acquitted themselves admirably in their oral arguments on the day, and neither showed signs of backing down as the judge’s panel peppered them with difficult questions about the case material. It was a confident and admirable presentation of argument as well as rebuttal from both winners under very tough examination by the judges.

Photo of Golden Gavel 2023 Winners, (from left) Kristin Sinks (defendant) and Hannah Hamblin (plaintiff)

Photo of Golden Gavel 2023 Winners, (from left) Kristin Sinks (defendant) and Hannah Hamblin (plaintiff)

In his feedback to the two advocates following the session, Judge Owens made clear his feelings on their composure, delivery and the quality of the performance that had just taken place, “You two were total professionals,” he repeated, cueing rounds of applause from a wowed audience. Judge Vu seconded this feeling, suggesting that he too was somewhat surprised by the quality and composure stemming from novice 1L students, a sentiment strongly supported by the attentive audience.

Orange County-based Rutan & Tucker has a long history of investment in the mission of Chapman University and Fowler School of Law, with a number of Fowler alumni employed by the firm, including partners Jennifer Farrell, Brandon Sylvia, and Kenneth Zielinski. Rutan & Tucker’s sponsorship of the Golden Gavel competition includes generous $500 scholarships for each of the deserving finalists.