MBA Mock Trial marks silver anniversary

Issue May 2010

Boston all-girls high school wins state championship

by Bill Archambeault

The Winsor School, an all-girls high school in Boston, won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2010 Mock Trial State Championship, advancing to the national competition in Philadelphia May 6-9.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the competition, the Winsor School team bested Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School of South Hadley by a 2-1 vote after a two-hour mock trial on March 26.

The competition was held before hundreds of supporters and spectators in the Great Hall in Boston's Faneuil Hall, with three Massachusetts judges presiding over the trial and selecting the champion.

"The voting was close, about as close as it can get," said Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Peter W. Agnes Jr., the presiding judge.

Massachusetts District Court Judge Barbara Savitt Pearson, a scoring judge, praised both teams, which advanced past the more than 100 other schools that competed this year.

"If in my courtroom every day I had the pleasure of having lawyers as good as you, my job would be a lot easier," she said. "This is one of my favorite activities of the year. Your performances really were stellar. This really was a very difficult case."

This year's case involved a parent who had filed a civil suit after losing thousands of dollars investing in an aggressive hedge fund to pay for her child's college. The plaintiff argued that she had been manipulated by her financial advisor into choosing an extremely risky hedge fund, while the financial advisor and her brokerage firm claimed the parent had demanded high returns quickly despite being warned of the risk.

In Mock Trial competition, schools must be prepared to try both sides. At the state championship, Winsor represented the plaintiff and Pioneer Valley represented the defendant. In addition to announcing which school had performed the best, the judges also said that they would have issued a mixed verdict for the plaintiff.

Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Judge John D. Casey, a scoring judge, agreed that the teams' performances were particularly impressive given the complexity of the case.

"We were all so impressed with the detail and how you handled yourselves," he said. "This takes a lot of courage, to stand up in front of your peers and families and strangers, to think on your feet, to think of objections. The reason you're the best of the best is your preparation."

Casey also praised the students for deftly answering questions that Agnes posed to them during their closing arguments, then picking up where they had left off.

"Both sides did an excellent job handling it," Casey said.

Before announcing the winner, Agnes noted how pleased he was by the professional decorum maintained by both teams, even under aggressive cross examinations and objections. He said he was dismayed when President Barack Obama was interrupted by Rep. Joseph Wilson shout of "You lie!" during Obama's speech on health care to Congress in September.

"So it's wonderful to see the professionalism you exhibited here today," Agnes said. He also picked up on Pearson's comments about the complexity of the background case material the students had to learn.

"I don't think I've ever seen a Mock Trial where student lawyers knew their material better than they did in this case," he said. "The student lawyers in this competition did an excellent job."

Students who fluidly handled case facts relating to investments and returns during the trial admitted afterward that this year's material had not been the easiest to master.

Pioneer Valley senior Joseph Kendrick said that while this year's case didn't involve as much human interest as others during his four years on the team, this case was the most interesting legally.

"There was a lot of extra research done [this year because of the material], more than we usually do," he said.

Pioneer Valley junior Kimaya Diggs said, "This case was harder to understand than I expected, but the intensity level [of the competition] was what I expected."

While Pioneer Valley has reached the state finals before, this was Winsor's first appearance.

"Every year, it's your hope to get this far," said Amy Bridge, a Winsor senior and co-captain.

Bridge said she was excited to get a completely new case to learn for the national competition.

"At the beginning of every year, there's so much information you have to know," she said. "It's a whole year of practice, and everyone gets more comfortable with it."

Winsor co-captain Sanjana Sharma, also a senior, pointed out that this year's team included eight freshmen. Though many of them didn't perform during the competition, "I don't think it can be overstated how much they help," she said. "They help us see [the competition] with new eyes."

Maggie Yellen, also a Winsor co-captain and senior, said she too was looking forward to getting the new case. While team members are expected to start preparing by reviewing the rules of evidence, she said that excitement gets the best of them and they skip ahead to read the case's affidavits.

"I'm thrilled [about advancing to nationals]," Yellen said. "I love being able to spend more time with this team."

Winsor attorney-coach Joshua McGuire, a Mock Trial Committee member and a former student champion, said it's "a terrific accomplishment" to be the first championship won by a private all-girl's school.

"They were just a fantastic, dedicated group," he said. "I'm particularly pleased for the seniors, who wanted to break through and advance."

Having so many underclassmen on this year's team "is a very good sign for the future of the program," he said.

Before presenting a $2,500 check from the Massachusetts Bar Foundation to the Winsor School to help cover their travel costs for the national competition, MBF President Joseph P.J. Vrabel Jr. told both teams that his college students had nothing on them.

"I can't tell you how proud I am, and I hope all of you go to law school," he said.

MBA President Valerie A. Yarashus told the students that the MBA hopes they had found the competition a rewarding opportunity, "something that has brought about a greater appreciation of yourselves, your teammates, the law, court proceedings and the American judicial system," she said. "I'm confident that this experience will serve you well as you plan your futures in college and as adult citizens in our great democracy."

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

"We are indebted to the generosity of Brown Rudnick, who have committed unwavering, substantial financial support over the years to the MBA's Mock Trial Program," Yarashus said.

Jennifer Rosinski and Chelsea Hildreth contributed to this story.