New judge credits Mock Trial for judicial preparation

Issue May 2007 By Dennis Garrigan

When the Hon. John D. Casey, associate justice for the Essex County Probate and Family Court, was sworn in last December, plans called for him to shadow other judges for several weeks before sitting through cases on his own.

His orientation period ended abruptly though when year-end demands of the court forced him to preside within days of the start of his orientation. 

“I took a deep breath and began contemplating my days as a judge in Mock Trial,” said Casey. “I began to employ many of the same judicial rules and principles that I had used in preparing as a judge for the MBA’s Mock Trial. That kind of preparation certainly helped me during the first few months of sitting as an actual judge.”

Casey has enjoyed a 15-year association with the MBA’s High School Mock Trial program. Beginning as an attorney-coach in the early stages for teams at Attleboro High School, Casey was increasingly more active, serving on the Mock Trial Committee of the MBA, and eventually becoming a judge for Mock Trial on several occasions.

“As an attorney, Mock Trial gives you a whole new perspective going from an advocate who suddenly has to sit in the role of
judge,” Casey said. “As advocates, we really don’t get the opportunity to do that, and it was always something I took seriously. So, in preparing for the mock trials, it effectively helped me to ease me into my current role.”

Casey believes trial experience doesn’t necessarily prepare one for assuming the bench. He says the Mock Trial experience helped him become a better lawyer at the time, and later, in the transition to becoming a judge.

“It always came as a bit of a shock to me that as lawyers, we have cases we deal with for months and even years,” Casey said.

“We know every detail about a case. But a judge often times doesn’t know anything about a case until walking in and standing before the court. In a very real way, the experience of Mock Trial helped me to simplify, to prioritize and to try to get points across in as short a period of time as possible.”

The change in outlook is especially vivid in Mock Trial participation.

“As a Mock Trial judge, I was always impressed at how students challenged my rulings from a different perspective,” Casey
said. “Our (Mock Trial) students work very hard to put themselves in a very stressful situation of having to think on their feet in front of an audience. To take on this kind of a challenge and to succeed so well is nothing short of remarkable.”

Casey encourages MBA members to become actively involved in Mock Trial.

“I would encourage the bar to get
involved in Mock Trial in any capacity,” he said. “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised with the work of these young people. I know the students would appreciate it. And I know it will restore our faith in young people and the profession, especially the trial skills we take often take for granted.”

Every Mock Trial team Casey has been associated with has consistently demonstrated extraordinary abilities.
“How difficult it is for anyone at any age to stand up in front of their peers and make arguments and act as witnesses,” said
Casey. “Mock Trial teams always seemed to exhibit respect for the court, a tremendous grasp of the facts, effectively responding to questions and thinking well on their feet.”

Prior to becoming a Probate and Family Court judge, Casey was a partner in the law firm of Casey and Thompson PC in
Attleboro for 24 years. He began his legal career in 1982 as assistant solicitor and police prosecutor for the city of Attleboro.

Casey is a graduate of Bates College and Suffolk University School of Law. In addition to Mock Trial, Casey is active in MBA and other bar associations, where he leads a number of judicial and professional committees.