Our Day in Moot Court with Professor Derrick Bell

I don’t remember how Professor Bell got to school the next morning, the day of our Stanley Mosk Undergraduate Moot Court performance. I don’t remember driving him in, so my bet would be that Pat did that again for us. There were so many details to take care of. I’m sure I had five minutes free somewhere that day, but I can’t remember them.

There were no worries that a student would develop stage fright and freeze on that big stage. Well, that’s not exactly right. We’d had many years of experience by then taping in the campus TV studio and on the smaller stage in the Fine Arts Auditorium. We’d never tried to fill the campus main auditorium.

But I had the experience of watching that happened in rounds at UCLAW. That’s part of what undergraduate moot court was about: teaching the students that they COULD perform real intellectual tasks, like remembering their names when appearing in court.

The students had asked for this kind of practice.  The program was developed by them and for them. And all the administrative chores were handled by them, with me, our volunteer lawyers, and former participants for backup. That means they scheduled rounds, invited and confirmed training lawyers, made sure we had transcripts for training, and for all the lawyers and judges, handled the budget, arranged for the TV studio for their training video and for the help they would need there, learned the law and facts that would apply to their argument, and discovered that they could still sound sensible even when they were scared to death on stage.

After the first early years, one of our first participants actually helped me write the fictional transcript for appellate review, and the brief for the court. He was so excited by the law, he went into work as a paralegal. I’ve always regretted that he didn’t go to law school. But that’s what this program was meant to do: reach these young people early enough that post-graduate education would become a real possibility. And that’s why Professor Bell meant so much to us as the Chief Justice of our Annual Undergraduate Moot Court Performance. He wanted the same thing we did – genuine access to those who hadn’t received that access through privilege.

Professor Bell arrived sometime early that morning. We were a small college, always spilling out of our concrete space, so there was nowhere for us to offer Professor Bell a quiet space where others could have greeted him throughout the day. Oh, I’m sure we had various students appointed to see that he was fed and had whatever he needed. But the only space we had was my two offices. OK. My office and the Paralegal Studies office across the hall, which doubled as the moot court office. However, early on, students were spilling out into the hall, much as we had done in the first days of our Research Center.

A colleague, Susan Fellows, was there, observing for her own research, helping direct students with the reality of an approaching performance, bigger than we’d ever done before. There were so many people coming and going, I haven’t the foggiest notion where Professor Bell was for the morning hours.

By early afternoon, both offices and the hallway had cleared; the kids had gone home to get dressed for the evening event, and the last minute glitches hadn’t started to come up yet. Professor Bell was in my office, on the sofa, quietly going over some paperwork. One of the students burst in to exclaim that the parking ticket machines had not been covered.

Every year for our Annual Final Rounds, the community was invited and there were no parking charges on the campus that night, at least not in the lots we used for the auditorium. But something had gone wrong. I picked up the phone and checked with someone of Fifth Floor administration.

(I have to add an image for explanation here – it’s vital to the story that our library had been built so that the Fifth Floor was accessible by only two elevators, two stairwells, in case of rioting that might reach the campus, after the Watts Riots, remember? So, to us, administration had always been “the Fifth Floor.”

Whoever I was trying for on the Fifth Floor wasn’t there. I called the Campus Police, and was told that they could not cover the meters, as our students were posting parking signs, because they had not been authorized to do so. I called the Fifth Floor again, and this time asked for a colleague who was in an administrative office very close to the President’s.

“What do you mean you can’t suspend parking for tonight? Bill, you know we’ve always suspended parking for tonight in Lots 2 and 20. We’ve invited the community. We can’t ask them to pay for parking. We need that attendance. . .

“I beg your pardon. You can’t find anything to cover them with? Well, I think I can assure you that if you can’t, I can, and we’ll have someone out there to cover them in fifteen minutes.”

(I had occupied a huge classroom in our social and behavioral sciences building to operate a child care center for students’ children, so they could attend classes. This colleague was there, and was part of the cadre of faculty that confronted the Vice President in what became “The Peace Room” later, demanding a child care center, with one child sprawled out asleep on the Peace Room floor, because we hadn’t been able to find her parents when the college judicial officer came to carry out a Citizen’s Arrest and read us our right. In case you’re not up on that law, only police officers have to read those rights, not private citizens. So, Bill knew I meant that I could have them covered in fifteen minutes. We were a creative group, we were.)

As I hung up to go find someone to go either cover the meters or see that Bill had had it done, a quiet voice came from the corner, “That’s the third time you’ve made that phone call.”

Professor Bell didn’t know me. He didn’t know any of the history of the Stanley Mosk Undergraduate Moot Court. But he did know the stories that needed to be told.

The parking meter machines were covered.

I’m gonna do it again. Post this, so Susan can read it. Then I’m gonna spend an hour or two reading Head First on WordPress, in the hope that I can quit losing images and goodness knows what. I may just go on and finish this this afternoon.  It’s different from my usual posts, and I’d like it posted for Professor Bell.

love and peace, and more to come

jeannie the Red Jay


About Jeannie the Red Jay

Emeritus Professor, lawyer, physicist, mathematician, French teacher, Ph.D. in learning theory and philosophy. Artist, wife, mother, political activist. Teller of ever so many stories gathered along the way. Emeritus Prof. in sociology at California State University, Domingeuz Hills. Web Mistress for Dear Habermas in research study with Susan R. Takata of the University of Wisconsin, Parkside: Study of Social Network Analysis in Developing a Public Sphere in Local Communities, Real and Virtual.
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