Team competitions are a big part of the high school experience. Usually, people associate team activities with sports. However, many schools offer Mock Trial, which involve students in a courtroom experience unlike any other.
Although New York State does not participate in the National Mock Trial Tournament, it does hold its own statewide competition, which takes place from January to May. This competition includes more than 350 teams from across the state, and the final round takes place in Albany. Only six teams make it to the final round each year. In Western New York, there are about 25 teams that compete to reach the final round. Judges, lawyers and others who work in law-related jobs are the judges for the competitions, which can be beneficial to the students who receive feedback at the end.
To prepare for the competition, each participating school receives a court case, written by lawyers from the New York State Bar Association. Each team proceeds to split into the plaintiff (or prosecution) and the defense sides of the case. For each side, three students play the parts of witnesses and six students play lawyers. Each team works with at least one attorney adviser to help them through the trial process. During the competition, the teams compete as either the defense or plaintiff. Both the lawyers and the witnesses receive scores, and the team with the highest score wins.
The case this year is Morgan Martin v. Cattaraugus Programming University, a case concerning deceptive business practices. It centers on Martin, a recent graduate of CPU who cannot pay back student loans. Upset that the diploma earned at CPU only results in a minimum wage job, Martin sues CPU under the New York State General Business Law, alleging that the university used fraudulent practices to lead Martin to a worthless job and $80,000 in debt.
All the witness names are gender neutral in the case to give equal opportunity to everyone trying out for a witness role, so the case includes Dr. Chris Cringle, the head of a college accreditation company, and Jordan Phillips, a former CPU admissions counselor joining Martin on the plaintiff side. On the defense, Dr. Shannon Charlton, the dean of admissions at CPU; Dana Detter, a current admissions and financial aid counselor at CPU; and Casey Key, the valedictorian of Martin’s class at CPU, strive to prove that CPU did not commit fraud.
Mock Trial introduces students to the legal system through teamwork and friendly competition, and students do not need to be law school-bound to join a team. Witnesses and lawyers alike need to be able to think on their feet throughout the course of the competition, so anyone who has a remote interest in the law or role-playing can join. If your school does have a team, go to a trial and see how complex and enjoyable the competitions are. If your school does not have a team and you are interested in forming one, visit the New York State Bar Association’s website for more information.
Emily DeRoo is a senior at Williamsville North High School.