Western Mass. charter school wins 2011 Mock Trial

Issue May 2011

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School in South Hadley has been named state champion of the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2011 Mock Trial Program. The April 1 finals were held at Faneuil Hall in Boston, where PVPA challenged and took victory over Boston Latin School. PVPA was also champion in 2006 and made the finals several times, including last year.

The Mock Trial Program began its 26th 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, which included more than 200 trials.

PVPA and Boston Latin competed during a nearly three-hour mock trial in Faneuil Hall's Great Hall. Pioneer Valley represented the defendant, "Eddie Bernson," an Olney, Mass., high school senior charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of two people in a car accident. Bernson was accused of removing a stop sign from a dangerous accident as part of a high school scavenger hunt. Boston Latin acted as the prosecution.

Norfolk Probate and Family Court Associate Justice John D. Casey served as the presiding judge, while Superior Court Associate Justice John T. Lu and District Court Justice Barbara Savitt Pearson assisted.

"There aren't any losers. You are all winners. You are all wonderful," said Pearson, who shared with students how impressed she was with their composure during the trial.

Casey said Pioneer Valley was victorious in defending Bernson, who was found not guilty. That win, however, did not mean Pioneer Valley would automatically take the championship. The judges determined, unanimously, that Pioneer Valley was the victor because it received the higher score. The judges based their calculations on a number of factors, including presentation and knowledge of both the case and law.

"We at the MBA hope you have found this competition a rewarding opportunity so far - something that has brought about a greater appreciation of yourselves, your teammates, the law, court proceedings and the American judicial system," MBA Secretary Marsha V. Kazarosian said.

PVPA advances to the National High School Mock Trial Championship May 4-8 in Phoenix. A portion of the trip will be funded by a donation from the MBA's philanthropic partner, the Massachusetts Bar Foundation.

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