U.S. Court of Appeals Holds Oral Arguments at Georgetown Law

November 12, 2013 — “Oyez, oyez, oyez,” said the bailiff, calling to order a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It was standard operating procedure — with one important exception. The court was convening at the Law Center’s Hart Auditorium. It was the first time the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments outside of a federal courthouse.

The November 12th proceedings, which were open to the public, featured two cases: United States v. Fraser Verrusio and Sea World of Florida, LLC v. Thomas Perez. Chief Judge Merrick Garland, Judge Judith Rogers and Judge Brett Kavanaugh presided. 

In United States v. Fraser Verrusio, Richard P. Sobiecki of Baker Botts argued that the government presented insufficient evidence to convict Verrusio, a congressional staffer, on gratuities counts. At the conclusion of Sobiecki’s rebuttal, Garland said, “Thank you, counsel, for being willing to stand up to an audience of fiercely interested students.” 

The second case was an appeal of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration ruling that required Sea World to separate trainers from killer whales following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau. Brancheau drowned in February 2010, when an orca whale pulled her into a pool at Sea World in Orlando, Florida. Attorney Eugene Scalia of Gibson Dunn and Crutcher (son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) said the OSHA order creates a “stark change in the business model of the company,” likening it to a ban on physical contact among National Football League players. 

“What if I’m telling them to wear helmets,” Garland countered. “I remember a time when hockey players didn’t wear masks.”  Scalia maintained that interaction between whales and humans is central to the Sea World mission.

And speaking of interactions, “one thing different about this courtroom is that we really get a close up view of counsel,” said Garland, playfully admonishing attorneys not to frown at each other’s arguments. 

Garland hopes this will be the first of a series of oral arguments held at District of Columbia law schools. “I hope this was a successful first foray out of our building,” he said.