For guests in the audience, it was hard to believe they were watching high school students simulate a courtroom scenario. The performances of two teams from Boston Latin School and Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School came across as an actual case being tried by practicing attorneys at the 2006 Mock Trial Championship on March 29.
Boston Latin School and Pioneer Valley were decided as the finalists less than 24 hours prior to the championship trial. As Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L. Ireland called the court to order, the official tenor of the event made it easy for spectators and participants to forget this was a high school competition. Students donned dress shoes, carefully manicured hairstyles and business suits. Their professional appearances set the tone for impressive performances on behalf of the fictitious plaintiff and defendant.
As a large audience of classmates, teachers, family members and MBA leaders and members looked on, Boston Latin School began with their opening statements, arguing that the plaintiff was the victim of a preventable accident ultimately caused by the manufacturer of a faulty Global Positioning System product. Pioneer Valley was quick to counter their claim, insisting that the tragic accident that left the plaintiff's husband in a coma was the fault of the plaintiff's careless driving.
The subsequent evidence sharing, witness questioning and cross-examination were filled with appropriate objections and explanations. The rapid pace of the proceedings made the two-hour final round of competition go by quickly. Closing arguments were equally weighted, making the judgment by Ireland a difficult one.
As Ireland called for a brief recess to make his decision, students anxiously rehashed the proceedings with their teammates, appearing visibly nervous about the outcome. After what turned out to be a rather lengthy deliberation, Ireland returned to commend both teams, explaining how their stellar performances made for a tough decision on his part.
"I have honestly not seen such a fine job. If I didn't know you were high school students, I would have assumed you were polished attorneys," said Ireland, whose comment was met with agreement from the audience with thunderous applause.
"I wish every high school in Massachusetts could participate in this program because students can learn so much," said Ireland, who went on to underscore the value of this experience on students' lives and the importance of life skills gained as a result. "This experience will make you better citizens, students and people."
After delivering his ruling on the liability claims against the defendant by the plaintiff, he assessed the students' performances before sharing with the crowd his decision on the champion. "By a small margin, Boston Latin School is our winner today," he said.
He then addressed both teams with final comments: "You are tomorrow's leaders and you provide high hopes for our state and our country."
After the trial, Massachusetts Bar Foundation President Francis A. Ford, Esq. presented Boston Latin School with a $2,500 travel grant to defray the costs of the team's trip to Oklahoma City, where they will represent Massachusetts in the National Mock Trial Competition in May.
The 2006 Mock Trial Tournament began in January with more than 2,000 students competing, representing 115 schools from across Massachusetts. In all, 262 trials were held at 50 trial venues. A total of 118 volunteers, all of them attorneys or judges, presided over this year's trials. This year's program was sponsored for the seventh consecutive year by Brown, Rudnick, Berlack, Israels LLP in Boston.
For more information on the MBA Mock Trial program, visit www.massbar.org, call (617) 338-0570 or e-mail [e-mail mocktrial].