Mock Trial Team Makes Strong Debut!
By: Alexander Calafiura
Caption: East Side's mock trial team after its match with Trinity High School.
This year, a group of fourteen inspired juniors came together to form what would be the first mock trial team in East Side’s long history. They were interested in developing public speaking skills and argumentative abilities with complete immersion in the ins and outs of the law. From the start of November to the beginning of March, students worked tirelessly to build an argument for a civil case: Remington Stone v. Marley Miser and Acme Construction Company. With little experience in the law, they conducted in-depth research and crafted elaborate testimony, statements, and lines of questioning. Every year, the New York State Bar Association releases a 140 page packet containing all the material required for a group of students to develop a court case– context, witness affidavits, and competition rules. Released cases are either civil or criminal, and are structured in such a way that both the plaintiff/prosecution and defense can develop viable arguments in front of a judge. Each side (plaintiff/prosecution and defense) consists of three student attorneys and three student witnesses. Student attorneys are responsible for delivering structured oral arguments and guiding or leading student witnesses in questioning. Student witnesses are responsible for responding to questions and putting on a believable and convincing performance. Charlie Ginsberg, a junior who played the plaintiff witness “Dakota Springs,” prepared for his testimony inside of the courtroom by “getting into character and memorizing my person, their lines, their personality and more. I really had to get to know my character in order to be him.” A practicing attorney from outside of the school system came in to coach students on courtroom professionalism and the art of advocacy. He informed students how to properly persuade others, argue a point, and respond to objections from opposing parties. Gabriel Nagel, a student attorney for the plaintiff, said that he learned how to “properly craft an argument, understand the rules of legal case, and present objections. I also learned how to be precise and quick on my feet.” He is grateful that “mock trial has helped me develop those skills, and I still want to develop them further. I am now on the pathway to achieve those skills.” Fortunately, East Side did not lack talent or intellectual diversity, and were prepared to eloquently brawl inside of the courtroom. The plaintiff and defense, who spent months building their cases, fought for the victory against two private schools: Ethical Culture School of Fieldston and Trinity High School. Despite the difference in experience and affluence, East Side put up an extremely good fight, defeating Trinity and coming incredibly close to beating Fieldston. Kate Jensen, who supervised the mock trial team, had her own thoughts about the defeat: “I think it was an eye-opener that there is no standard for a ‘judge.’ They could be volunteer lawyers who might not have any trial experience because they specialize in other areas. I think it could have easily gone both ways.” Overall, though, Kate felt that it was important to note the fundamental gap between East Side and Trinity and Fieldston. After all, not only was this East Side’s first year, but she also believes we had less resources to succeed. Kate elaborates that “East Side was placed against two of the most expensive and elite private schools in the city… and we are a title 1 school with limited resources. So, I believe it was very important for us to represent, and I am very proud of what we have accomplished.”
Caption: East Side’s mock trial team before its match with Ethical Culture Fieldston. As a student attorney and the leader of the plaintiff, I think I speak for our team when I say that the defeat did not make the experience any less rewarding. As we can all attest, operating as a player inside of the courtroom is an absolutely surreal feeling. In the moment, you are at the center of everybody’s attention, and you only have one chance to make your case and convince the judge to side in your favour. It was an incredibly intense and emotional experience– but speaking from personal experience– I found it to be extremely enriching. And it was extremely fun! Charlie Ginsberg said that “it felt very authentic and surreal being in an actual courtroom. It was an immediate payoff of months of work. Becoming the character was a lot of fun, and I had a lot of creative liberty.” Ultimately, although students were filled with regret that they did not advance further, they are still incredibly excited to see where the next year brings them. Audrey Meyers, co-founder of the mock trial team, student attorney, and leader of the defence, thinks that “mock trial next year will go a lot better, since we’ve had a long and valuable year of practice. We also have a better conception of how the development of a case as a whole looks like. If we do more practice and become more selective with positions, I can see us doing a lot better and making it a lot further inside of the competition.” As the other co-founder of the mock trial team, I speak with full confidence that East Side’s mock trial team is full of the talent and potential to shine even brighter next year. This year’s juniors, who have learned a lot from being inside of the courtroom, can mentor underclassmen and give them the tips that we gleaned from being inside of the courtroom. With a year of experience, we are ready to make a fantastic rebound. The sky’s the limit.