Jennifer Salim, a third-year law student from Natchitoches, La., was named Baylor Law School's latest Top Gun on Monday, Dec. 6. Salim won the intrascholastic Bob and Karen Wortham mini-trial competition and took home the "Mad Dog," an 18-inch bronze statuette of Matt "Mad Dog" Dawson, the legendary Baylor Law professor who started the tradition of mini-trial competitions during his tenure as director of Baylor Law's Practice Court Program.
Salim battled Robert Wharton for three hours to win the coveted trophy and the title of the top Baylor Law student trial advocate. As winner of the Wortham competition, Salim will receive $3,000. As runner up, Wharton received $1,000. Semifinalists Wes LeRouax and James Robert Ray each received $500.
"I felt incredibly humbled," Salim said about winning the award. "The entire competition was a huge effort by all of my classmates, our witnesses, our judges, and our professors. To know how much work we have all put in this year and to get to accept an award on behalf of all of our efforts was nothing short of amazing."
A graduate of TCU, Salim has competed in three interscholastic mock trial competitions, including the prestigious Tournament of Champions. She also was in two interscholastic moot court competitions and is Managing Senior Executive Editor for Baylor Law Review. She is a Baylor Law Student Ambassador, worked on National Adoption Day and works as a research assistant. After graduation in May, she will serve for one year as a judicial clerk on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for Judge Priscilla Owen.
Wharton is originally from Florida and graduated from Florida State University. After graduation in May, he hopes to be a criminal prosecutor.
Salim tried five rounds during the competition. Participants in the preliminary and semifinals rounds tried a criminal case. On Friday evening, Salim and Wharton learned they would get an entirely different case for the finals. That case was a negligence case in which a truck driver is being sued for hitting an elderly driver.
"Initially it was intimidating. We normally get mock trial cases that are 50 pages and focus on one issue. This one was 170 pages and was packed with numbers, calculations and changing stories. In the end it was a fun problem to work with and a great challenge to figure out all of the numbers," Salim said.
Wharton agreed, saying, "I was shocked to get a new case on Friday night, when I had just finished after winning the semis at 6:45. Plus it was a civil case, and we had done criminal in all the previous rounds (which I very much prefer, and probably helped me get to the final). The weekend was rough. There was a lot of stress with bouncing ideas around in your own head and talking it out with my friends. I had never even done public speaking before the moot court inter-school competition in my first year and the only mock trial practice I had was in Practice Court."
Experienced trial lawyers served as judge and jury for the finals. Participating were Scott James,
Mike Scanes and Ben Selman with Dan Tilly acting as presiding judge. The competitors were scored on opening statement, direct exam of witnesses, cross examination of witness, closing argument and legal management of evidence and procedure issues. In the preliminary rounds, students who didn't sign up to compete served as judges, witnesses and bailiffs. Additionally, students who started in the competition, switched into witness roles as the tournament progressed. Salim especially appreciated the competition format.
"Trial lawyers are bred to be competitive and taught to advocate with all they have. As Baylor Law students, all of us have that in us. But this competition was about each of us being our best the right way. As such, the witnesses tried their very best to be as prepared as possible even though they wouldn't get anything from a win. The judges worked hard to rule the way we were taught, and the other competitors never displayed anything short of excellent sportsmanship. Top Gun was an awe-inspiring example of why there is something inexplicable and unique about the Baylor culture. I am fortunate to be graduating with a group of students who will be incredible trial attorneys, and I look forward to working with, or even against, each of them," she said.
The Honorable Bob and Karen Wortham sponsor the intrascholastic competition. Wortham, now judge of 58th District Court in Jefferson County, served 12 years as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas before becoming a partner in the Reaud, Morgan and Quinn Law Firm. He began his career as a Jefferson County assistant district attorney and, at age 31, was appointed to serve an unexpired term as judge of 60th District Court - the youngest district judge in the state. In 1993, he received the Department of Justice Award for Outstanding Service. The couple's son, Baylor, also is an alumnus of the school and, following in his father's footsteps, works at the District Attorney's Office in Jefferson County.
"Judge Wortham, a seasoned trial lawyer before he took the bench, appreciates deeply the character of advocacy education and training at Baylor Law. He and Karen are class acts and are always 'there' for our program," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben.