THUNDER BAY – For the second year in a row, a team from Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law placed first at the Arnup Cup moot, a mock trial where the team argued a fictitious case.
Justin Blanco and Justis Danto-Clancy won the Arnup Cup on February 8 in Toronto after successfully defending their fictional client, bar owner Carl Benoit, charged with causing an indignity to a body and first-degree murder. Benoit pleaded guilty to the first charge and not guilty to the second.
Police charged Benoit after a masquerade party at his bar on May 17, 2019. That is when a fight between patrons resulted in a large hole in the wall and then a dead body, wrapped in plastic, fell out.
“It was the body of Carlos Lucca, a mob hitman,” Danto-Clancy said.
The body had been hidden in the wall for 11 months. The Crown’s theory was that Lucca was pursuing Benoit on behalf of a criminal organization for the repayment of a loan that Benoit had used to purchase the bar.
“Our defence team had an alternative explanation,” Blanco said.
“The accused maintained that it was the prosecution’s own witnesses who had murdered the hitman. They had dumped the body in his bar. (Benoit) had no confidence that he would be believed, so he hid the body in the wall,” he said.
As it turned out, there was actually some substance to Benoit’s claim. The prosecution’s witnesses had been wiretapped by the police.
“They were recorded saying some suspicious things that suggested they wanted to set the accused up to take the fall,” Blanco said.
To complicate the case, the murder weapon had two sets of fingerprints – one belonged to the accused; the other belonged to one of the prosecution’s witnesses.
“We argued that – at the very least – the Crown had not met their burden of proof and shown that Mr. Benoit was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Our argument was relentless and focused,” Danto-Clancy said.
Both Danto-Clancy and Blanco agreed that they would not have won without their Lakehead University legal training and the help of their coaches.
“We’re so proud to cement our reputation as formidable advocates who deserve attention on the national stage,” Danto-Clancy said. “I feel so proud of all my classmates and professors who set the high standards that we seek to meet every day in law school.”
The pair began preparing in mid-December, combing through witness statements, police and forensic reports, and other documents relating to the mock case. They read the materials over Christmas and met with their coaches in early January.
“From then on, we conducted full-length practice trials one to two times a week,” Blanco said. “This year, we were lucky to have two teams: one for the defence, Justis and myself, and one for the prosecution, Tamaira Davidson and Ashlee Hudie, as well as an alternate, Kim Young.”
It made sense to have both teams compete against each other at their practices.
“Doing so allowed us to expose one another to the weaknesses of our respective cases and refine them accordingly,” Blanco said. “That said, the practice trials were only half of the battle. In between practice sessions, Justis and I spent a great deal of time developing the content of our arguments and the strategies that would guide our witness examinations.”
Both teams also worked closely with coaches Marco Frangione and Amanda Gallo, who was part of the winning team from last year.
Blanco said it felt surreal when organizers announced that the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law team had won.
“We came prepared, but it was shocking nonetheless to find out we had outranked all of the other great law schools in Ontario. It was truly an unforgettable experience,” he said.
Gallo said she could not be prouder of both teams.
“They worked incredibly hard over the past month, preparing for their trials and honing their skills,” she said. “Our students displayed exemplary passion, civility, teamwork, and of course skillful advocacy.
“It’s both incredibly exciting and rewarding to watch the next generation of the legal profession develop and grow into such talented young advocates,” Gallo said. “We’re very excited and honoured to be representing Ontario next month at the Sopinka Cup national trial advocacy competition in Ottawa.”
Frangione agreed. “Both teams were phenomenal,” he said. “They made their communities and families very proud. It was a privilege to see them execute so well. I could not be prouder as a coach.”
“The Arnup is unusual among moot competitions as it requires trial advocacy skills, a perfect testing ground for practice readiness,” said Dean Jula Hughes. “The success of the Bora Laskin team for a second year shows off the strength of our Integrated Practice Curriculum.”