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Lawyers Journal

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School wins Mock Trial Finals

Photo by David Gordon
Left to right are: Alyssa Crowther, Amira Shulman-Kumin, Alana Horowitz-Friedman, Elias Sanchez-Eppler, Mock Trial Committee Chair Eric Schutzbank, Ian Cutler, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland, David Sheppard-Brick, MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell, Gary Huggett, Emma Sokoloff-Rubin, Chelsea McGrath, Hannah Moriarity, Michael Fiorentino and Tiam Hamkins-Indik.
For the second year in a row, two high schools battled to the end for the statewide Mock Trial Program Finals.

?ut with just a one-point lead, Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School in Hadley toppled Newton North High School to become the victors of the competition. Pioneer Valley will now head to Charlotte, N.C., to compete in the national championship in May. Last year Newton North defeated Pioneer Valley for the title of state champ.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High won the competition Tuesday, March 29 following a bench trial before Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland in the historic Great Hall of Faneuil Hall in Boston.

"I will say to both teams, what an outstanding job both of them did," Ireland said. "I've been a judge for 28 years, a trial judge and an appellate judge, and this is really a high point in the year for me. I wish the lawyers whom I deal with on a regular basis were as talented as these student attorneys and witnesses."

Ireland hailed the Mock Trial Program for teaching students the values of competition, public speaking, analytic thinking and the legal system.

"It's exciting to think about their futures," Ireland said of the students. "These are the best and the brightest and you can see that."

This year's case involved a bench trial in federal court on a criminal matter. The charges were conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by arson causing death and malicious mischief. A researcher at a federally funded laboratory was charged after agreeing to permit some members of an animal rights organization to enter the facility. During the incident, several animals were released, a fire started and a fellow employee died in the fire. Did the defendant agree to release the animals and damage the facility or did s/he merely agree to allow the individuals in the facility to take pictures and learn the lay out so they could free animals from a different facility at a later date? In addition, the defendant raised as a defense that s/he withdrew from the conspiracy in a timely manner.

Ireland credited the depth of this year's case.

"It really had everything, it even had Romeo and Juliet," Ireland said.

Two characters, Romeo and Juliet, were a part of the animal rights organization that entered the facility.

Prior to the final round, MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell congratulated both Newton North High and Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School for reaching the finals. Since 1985, high schools throughout the state have competed in Mock Trial, with many of the students going on to pursue legal careers.

"Mock Trial serves many, many purposes," O'Donnell said. "It provides students with a real life opportunity to improve basic skills such as critical thinking, public speaking and advocacy."

Photo by Krista Zanin
Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland receives the MBA Public Service Award from MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell.
This year 119 teams competed and 224 trials were held in two months. More than 130 individuals volunteered to judge the competitions, which were held in 51 different courthouses, libraries and town buildings throughout the state.

"Mock Trial brings in many segments of the community and gives them more information about the legal system," O'Donnell said.

For the seventh year, the law firm Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, LLP sponsored Mock Trial by donating $25,000.

Attorney Albert W. Wallis, executive director of the Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest, hailed Mock Trial as giving students a unique way to learn about the legal system.

"You can understand that when that system works well, there are no losers, we are all the winners," Wallis said.

"Lawyers are not just about the law, they are about giving back to the community, about generosity and about respect. Lawyers make a big difference. You can make a big difference as well," he added.

The Massachusetts Bar Foundation also donated $2,500 to Pioneer Valley for the team's expenses for the trip to North Carolina for the finals.

©2014 Massachusetts Bar Association