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Stetson College of Law team wins 7th annual Andrews Kurth National Moot Court Championship

Judges and participants gather after the final round of the 7th Annual Andrews Kurth National Moot Court Championship won by the team from Stetson University College of Law. Pictured from left, Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown, Stetson team member Melaina Tryon, Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Reavley, Nick Sellars of Stetson, Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Elrod, Samuel Lehman and Tyler Clemons, of the runner-up Georgetown team, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Graves, and Andrews Kurth partner and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Scott Brister.

Jan. 27, 2015 -- A team from Stetson University College of Law took home the winner’s trophy in the 7th annual Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship hosted by the Blakely Advocacy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.

James R. Roach, of ExxonMobil Chemical Company, left, Rebecca Rosenberg, of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Walt White, of Grant Thornton, participate in a panel discussion moderated by UH Law Center Professor Bret Wells.  

The team of Nick Sellars, Melaina Tryon, and Giovanni Giarratana won against 15 of the nation’s top moot court programs. Tryon also won the “Best Speaker” award. Georgetown University took second place and the “Best Brief” Award. The tournament was held Jan. 23-25 at the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston.

The field comprised teams from Chicago Kent College of Law, Emory University School of Law, Faulkner University School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, Seton Hall School of Law, South Texas College of Law, Stetson University College of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law, UC Hastings College of Law, University of Georgia School of Law, University of Houston Law Center, University of Miami School of Law, University of Mississippi School of Law, and the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Guest judges for this year’s final round were Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Jennifer Elrod, James Graves, and Thomas Reavley; Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeff Brown; and former Texas Supreme Court Justice and current Andrews Kurth partner Scott Brister.

This year’s moot court problem focused on issues faced by U.S. businesses in dealing with federal tax credits on profits earned in unstable foreign countries. In the problem, a fictional U.S. oil and gas exploration company asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow a foreign tax credit for payments made to the leader of a rebel force, recognized by the president as a “sovereign friend,” within a civil war-torn nation.

As part of the three-day championship activities, participating teams were invited to attend a symposium related to the topic.

The symposium titled “International Business and Tax Law Issues in Politically Unstable Regions … Buckle Up” was held on Jan. 23 at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Houston. UH Law Center Professor Bret Wells moderated a panel of speakers, including James M. Roach, Rebecca Rosenberg, and Walter White.

Members of the winning Stetson team, Giovanni Giarratana, left, Melaina Tryon, and Nick Sellars, are congratulated by Scott Brister, a partner at Andrews Kurth and former Texas Supreme Court justice.

Roach, general tax counsel for ExxonMobil Chemical Company, discussed the particular concerns of oil and gas exploration companies who operate in nations with unstable regimes, or even politically stable countries that impose special tax rates on the profits of those firms on extracted resources. He also discussed the difficulties such companies have in securing federal tax credits from the IRS for profits earned abroad.

Rosenberg, a principal in the Washington national tax services practice of PricewaterhouseCoopers, discussed the often-vaguely defined terminology that can make it difficult for U.S. firms to conform to tax law when dealing with foreign-derived profits. Rosenberg, who formerly worked as an assistant to the branch chief at the Chief Counsel’s Office of the IRS, said the agency has delayed promulgating new rulemaking meant to clarify those laws.

White, international tax partner in the Houston office of Grant Thornton and the firm’s central region international trade leader, discussed the issues faced by U.S. companies operating in countries that, openly or not, participate in a boycott against Israel, which the U.S. does not sanction. Such companies face strict reporting requirements that can make it difficult to do business, White said. He also discussed the issue of companies operating in countries that are the subject of U.S. boycotts.

In addition to Andrews Kurth LLP, the moot court tournament and symposium is co-sponsored by ExxonMobil; Edison, McDowell & Hetherington LLP; Locke Lord LLP; PwC; Lighthouse Data Solutions; the University of Houston Law Center; the Blakely Advocacy Institute; and the University of Houston Law Alumni Association.

For additional information, visit the Championship’s website at

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