Maimonides School of Brookline was named state champion of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2009 Mock Trial Program and advances to the national competition in Atlanta May 6-10.
It was the first finals round appearance for Maimonides, which outscored Sharon High School at the March 24 competition held in the Great Hall at Faneuil Hall in Boston. The school was a Sweet 16 regional winner in 2006.
Superior Court Associate Justice Howard J. Whitehead, who presided over the trial, said deciding the winner was difficult because both teams were so strong. “This is the best pair of performances I’ve seen; really the best we’ve had,” he said. Whitehead was assisted by two scoring judges, Superior Court Justice Peter W. Agnes Jr. and Essex Probate and Family Court Associate Justice John D. Casey.
Agnes told the students he has heard more than 1,000 real trials, and “It would be an honor and a pleasure for me to have any of the participants here today appear before me.”
“On cross-examination, we saw some demonstrations of great skill,” Agnes said. The opening statements were impressive, but “We were absolutely blown away by the closing arguments. It was truly a pleasure for me to be here today.”
Casey told the students, “This is not an easy thing to do at any stage in life.” Both teams’ ability to think on their feet demonstrated that “Clearly, you’re the best of the best.”
For more than two hours, Sharon prosecuted the case and Maimonides represented the defendant, an Iraq War veteran charged with first-degree murder in connection with the July Fourth shooting death of his former high school enemy. Maimonides raised posttraumatic stress disorder as an insanity defense.
In the end, Sharon secured a guilty verdict against the defendant, “Sazer Larson.” However, Maimonides won the championship because it received a higher score from the judges, who based their calculations on a number of factors, including presentation and knowledge of both the case and law.
The Mock Trial Program began its 24th year in January. The competition places high school teams from 16 regions across the state in simulated courtroom situations where they assume the roles of lawyers, defendants and witnesses in hypothetical cases. More than 120 teams competed in this year’s competition.
“I hope you have found this competition a rewarding opportunity so far — something that has brought about a greater appreciation of yourselves, your classmates, the law, court proceedings and the American judicial system,” said MBA Vice President Robert L. Holloway Jr. “I’m confident that this experience will serve you well as you continue to gain self-confidence along your paths to college and adulthood.”
As the Maimonides team celebrated its win, the co-captains said the competition had been so fierce that they had no idea who would win until the judges announced they had bested Sharon.
“We knew they were good, but we didn’t know how good,” said Maimonides Co-Captain Michael Kosowsky.
Despite the loss, Sharon High School Co-Captain Adam Maidman said the team took pride in making significant improvement since starting this year’s tournament. “The change from October to this week is so big,” said Maidman. He and Co-Captain Ethan Richman were the only two seniors on the team.
After months of trying the same case over and over, Maimonides Co-Captain Leah Sarna said the team is looking forward to competing in the national tournament with a new case to argue.
“We’re really excited for the challenge,” she said.
Maimonides Co-Captain Harry Chiel credited the school’s tight-knit community with helping the team — which is roughly one-tenth of the school’s entire population — prepare for the championship round.
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. It has contributed $25,000 per year to the program since 1998.
A portion of Maimonides’ trip to Atlanta will be funded by a donation from the MBA’s philanthropic partner, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation. MBF President Laurence M. Johnson, who presented a ceremonial check to the team, said he has been trying cases for 44 years and found the students well-prepared and articulate and exhibited self control and maturity.
“The things you did are just extraordinary,” Johnson said, encouraging the students to pursue legal careers.