Newton South wins 2008 Mock Trial Championship

Issue April 2008 By Kelsey Sadoff

In what was hailed as the “best weighted case in 16 years” by presiding Judge Howard Whitehead, Newton South High School won the MBA’s 2008 High School Mock Trial State Championship on March 27. Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley was the runner-up in the finals, which were held in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall.

“What we will witness today is a duel between Western and Eastern Massachusetts,” said MBA President David W. White Jr. before the competition. “Faneuil Hall is where thousands of new lawyers are sworn into our profession each year. How appropriate that as the next generation of leaders, you find yourselves in this remarkable and dedicated venue.”

This year’s Mock Trial case, created by the 2008 MBA Mock Trial Committee, dealt with sexual harassment in the workplace. To prepare for trial, Newton South and Pioneer Valley attorneys were required to assess the alleged “hostile work environment” at a fictitious computer gaming company.

Teams had to determine if a high school senior, while employed as a company intern, simply overreacted and perhaps needed to develop a thicker skin, or if the workplace was truly infested by a climate which exceeded the bounds of the law.

Newton South represented the defendant in the case, LunaTick Games, while Pioneer Valley represented the plaintiff, a student intern named Hal Smith.

Superior Court Justice Howard J. Whitehead presided over the proceedings with assistance from Superior Court Justice Barbara A. Dortch-Okara and District Court Justice Barbara Savitt Pearson. Mock Trial Committee Acting Chair Denise Coffey offered participants and attendees welcoming remarks.

The judges commended both teams on their skills. “This is outstanding. I am really bowled over every time I see these performances,” said Dortch-Okara. She told the students, “If you want to compare yourselves to some practicing attorneys, you can do that.”

Even though Newton South took the state champion-ship, Whitehead said Pioneer Valley would have prevailed in a court of law on at least one of the two charges claimed in the lawsuit — gender discrimination due to a hostile work environment. The judges’ final decision was split two-to-one.
There were 211 total trials during the 2007-08 Mock Trial season, which began in January, at 53 different trial venues featuring 111 teams vying for the state title. Schools were initially divided into 16 geographic regions and competed in three preliminary rounds, with the team with the greatest percentage of wins in each region advancing to the championship “sweet 16” rounds.

“The MBA’s Mock Trial Program has been hugely successful,” said White. “The goal has remained to provide each student a chance to grow as an individual — to grow as someone who is able to work with and support others, as an informed citizen who understands our legal system, and as future leaders, who will use those skills to improve the lives of others in their communities.”

The judges were impressed with how effectively this year’s competitors raised objections, which they said is usually one of the most difficult aspects for students to master. In addition, the judges praised the witnesses’ performances, which can make or break a case, for their direct eye contact with the judges. Both teams were also commended for their closing statements, which, accord-
ing to the judging panel, were “an excellent weaving of law and facts.”

“It is a real honor to participate in the finals,” said Pearson, who commented specifically on witness performances. “It is important to be somewhat dispas-sionate when asking questions to make the witnesses come alive. Remember, questions are not evidence, answers are.”

The Mock Trial Program is administered by the MBA and made possible by the international law firm of Brown, Rudnick, Berlack, Israels LLP through its Center for the Public Interest in Boston, which has contributed $25,000 per year to the program since 1998.

After the competition, Massachusetts Bar Foundation Vice President Joseph P.J. Vrabel presented Newton South High School with a $2,500 travel grant to help defray the cost of the team’s trip to Wilmington, Del., where it will represent Massachusetts in the National High School Mock Trial competition in May.