Poring over legal documents may not be a typical after-school activity for most high schoolers. For eleven Pawling High School (PHS) students, these prep sessions are just as important as practices for athletic teams. As members of the Mock Trial team, the students are preparing for upcoming competitions.
In late January and early February, the PHS team won their two preliminary rounds at competitions held at Marist College, with victories over Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Poughkeepsie, and Millbrook High School. These rounds laid the groundwork for regular competition, which begins in late February and continues through mid-March.
Adviser Lisa Horn, a social studies teacher at Pawling High School, is optimistic about this season, especially with so many returning students. “Last year, our team did a stellar job prosecuting and defending the criminal case People v. Carson Connors,” she said. “We advanced to the quarter finals, missing regionals by one excruciating point!”
This year, the team is working on a civil case, Harley Davison v. Gotham City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “It is a fascinating fictional civil case in which the plaintiff challenges a city’s rejection of his request to take over his recently deceased aunt’s rent-controlled apartment,” Horn explained. “The case is rife with bias, hearsay, and rumors, and students must create innovative opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and closing statements to convince the court.”
Competition begins at the local level and expands to the regional level (semi-finals). Two final teams compete for the state championship. The New York State High School Mock Trial Program is run – in a joint venture with the New York Bar Foundation and the Law, Youth and Citizenship Program – by the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA.org), which also creates the fictitious case for each year’s competition.
The Mock Trials are presided over by real judges who donate their time to the program. Sharon Pritchard, co-adviser of the club and a social studies teacher at Pawling High School, said it is an awesome program because of the way it encourages “digging into details and the use of critical thinking skills.”
All students must read the case documents, which include a summary, witness affidavits, evidence, pertinent legal cases, and mock trial rules and proceedings. Each team will be required to be the plaintiff and the defense at one meet, requiring three attorneys, three witnesses, and two alternates for each side of the case. Witnesses have to know all the details of their statement and be prepared for cross-examination questions. Team attorneys do all the required work of a real case from opening and closing statements to preparing questions for the witnesses.
Many on the Pawling team said they like the structure of the process, as well as the need to work as a team. Senior Jacob Golodner said he was on the Debate Team last year and thinks Mock Trial is interesting because it has more structure and rules. “It is great to see how a real courtroom works.”
Sophomore Julia Zoeller is considering law as a profession. “I thought it looked like fun,” she said. “It is a good introduction.” Also considering law, senior Lahra Walker said she also likes having to perform in a high stakes situation.
The Pawling team roster consists of seniors Brigid Barrick, Bryan Hodge, Ryan Maasz, Jacob Golodner, Lahra Walker, Carly McGrath, Jesse DeHuff, Alex Santeramo and Sean Walsh; junior Julianne Pelegrino; and sophomore Julia Zoeller.
The PHS Mock Trial team’s next competition will be held on February 25. Pawling will be hosting the March 11 competition, which includes Beacon, Millbrook, Weebutuck, Lourdes, and Pine Plains.