Mila Frank, above left, and Sarah Tyler captured second place in Duke Moot Court, a prestigious nationwide tournament for high school students.

North Hollywood High coach Paul Landau is flanked by Sarah Tyler, left, and Mila Frank at Duke University.
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North Hollywood High coach Paul Landau is flanked by Sarah Tyler, left, and Mila Frank at Duke University.

Two seniors from the Highly Gifted Magnet at North Hollywood High School took second place in Duke University’s annual Moot Court competition, a prestigious national contest that showcases students’ research, writing and debate skills as well as their knowledge of constitutional law.

The team of Mila Frank and Sarah Tyler outperformed nearly 40 other teams from across the country in arguing a fictional appellate case. Sarah also finished fourth nationwide in her individual performance.

North Hollywood sent six other teams to the contest in Durham, N.C. – the sixth consecutive year it has qualified more teams than any other school.

“This is one of the best, most rigorous, most enjoyable competitions for the kids – year in and year out,” said Paul Landau, a former lawyer who now teaches at North Hollywood High and coaches the moot court teams. “They are dealing with cutting-edge constitutional law at the U.S. Supreme Court level.”

Landau said the cases at Duke Moot Court are typically adapted from current issues. The constitutional challenges in this year’s contest dealt with a fictional law that mandated a 30-day quarantine for patients infected with highly contagious diseases and also prohibited physicians from practicing or recommending “alternative” treatments them.

Sarah developed arguments related to a parent’s claim that her 14th Amendment rights to due-process were violated by the mandatory quarantine, which prevented her from seeking alternative treatment when her son contracted a contagious infection.  Mila tackled a First Amendment challenge to the law raised by a doctor who had prescribed a homeopathic remedy for the boy.

The students spent months researching case law, and developing, writing and rehearsing their presentation to the “court” – a panel of Duke University students. They had to develop arguments both challenging and defending the law, and found just shortly before the competition began which side they would actually be presenting. Both Sarah and Mila were tapped to represent the petitioner challenging the law.

“I’m very interested in constitutional law, and I like the format of the appellate court – the open debate format and the research that goes into it,” said Sarah, who is – not surprisingly – an aspiring attorney. “The broadness and significance of the issues adds a nice layer of meaning.”

Mila said the work that goes in to preparing for moot court would serve any number of professions, including the path she plans to take to a teaching career.

“I’m enjoying the skills, even if I don’t use them in a law career,” she said. “I love to write, and I have a love of speaking and researching that I can see myself using as a teacher in a classroom.”

The skills are obviously paying off at North Hollywood, as well. Both students have grade-point averages above a 4.0, and have received acceptance letters from prestigious universities around country.

North Hollywood’s performance in this year’s competition continues a tradition of excellence in the Duke Moot Court. The school has twice before taken the national championship, and has a prior second-place finish.

Two other teams — Felix Bulwa and Ben Schall, and Esther Choi and Elan Reynaud – joined Sarah and Mila in making it to the finals.

Landau said that, two weeks before the teams head to Duke, he brings in a panel of veteran lawyers and judges to conduct simulated arguments with the students and help them polish their performance.

“These are some of the best lawyers and judges in L.A. and California, with a total of 300 years of experience, so the kids really get an incredible outlet,” he said.

Moot Court partners for the last three years, Sarah and Mila said it will be hard to have the journey to come to an end.

“You do something that you have been preparing to do for two months and you come home and it’s over,” Mila said. “You prepare for two months, but you don’t know how you’ll do and you go in and have to figure it out. In the end, you have to be secure in the knowledge that you have done all that you can.”