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Shortly after the moot courtroom hosted its first oral argument in 1971, its magnificent skylights, designed to brighten up the circular room's somber interior, showed their vulnerability to a rainstorm: they leaked. Soon after, they were removed, taking with them all of the natural light from the space.
In January 2011, when students returned from the holiday break, those skylights, or more accurately, a modern-day version, were back, and the moot courtroom was no longer a moot courtroom. It had been transformed into the newest classroom at the University of New Mexico School of Law.
Now known as Room 2404, the room has become one of the school's largest classrooms, solving a problem that has plagued administrators for years. The airy classroom seats 58 students, which enables the school to meet its goal of offering three sections of required first-year courses, thus providing smaller faculty/student ratios for those courses than are found at most law schools across the country.
"We didn't have enough large classrooms to fulfill our pedagogical commitment to three sections for first-year classes whenever possible," said Professor Carol Parker, associate dean for finance and administration. "This new classroom now takes a lot of pressure off our facilities." Parker served as the school's project manager for the renovation.
The remodel was completed in four months and now earth tones have replaced the light oak/green carpet theme of the courtroom. A double set of bronze-tinted glass doors leads into the room. Paintings depicting Pueblo Indian scenes by Taos Society artist Joseph Imhof grace the walls of the new classroom. The paintings have been on loan from the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology since 1977 and had previously hung in the Forum.
The room is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, which includes a computer with two large display screens, multiple room microphones to ensure excellent recording quality, a DVD player, a built-in sound system and access to Cable TV.
The project was the final phase of a multi-year effort made possible by the Office of the Provost to upgrade classrooms throughout the law school. The $242,000 cost was covered by some of the proceeds from a university bond issue. Earlier projects included turning the two classrooms in the Frederick M. Hart Wing into moot trial courtrooms. Through the generosity of the New Mexico Court of Appeals, UNM law students also regularly use the new courtroom at the court's Pamela B. Minzner Law Center, thus removing the need for Room 2404 to remain a moot courtroom.
"The room is large enough to accommodate one half of the first year class and yet creates a sense of intimacy that is lacking in the larger classrooms that we were compelled to use in the past," said Emeritus Professor Ted Occhialino, who is teaching civil procedure in the new classroom during the spring 2011 semester. "Also, the room has a rich history; generations of students presented their first- year moot court arguments in that room and I like having the current 1Ls connected in this way to the many who preceded them."
Dean Kevin Washburn agreed: "I like to think that we have symbolically remained true to our architect Antoine Predock's wonderful vision of a courtroom representing the centrality of the common law in the heart of the building."
January 27, 2011