Chelmsford High wins Mock Trial following intense hearing

Issue May 2003 By Krista Zanin

It was as intense as any suppression hearing you'd see in Superior Court - a defense attorney on cross hammers questions to a police officer after a prosecutor pulls persuasive facts from the witness as to why the officer searched property without a warrant.

But this legal drama didn't take place in a traditional courtroom and the key players didn't have law degrees.

Chelmsford High School's Mock Trial team
Photo by David Spink
Chelmsford High School's Mock Trial team celebrates with Supreme Judicial Court Justice Roderick L.
Ireland (center back) in the Great Hall of Faneuil Hall following their win against Sharon High during the state championship round. Also pictured with the students are Mock Trial Committee Chairman Arthur J. Carakatsane (far left) and committee member Denise Coffey.
Instead, students from Chelmsford High School and Sharon High School proved their skills as future legal eagles during the annual Massachusetts Bar Association Mock Trial Championship hosted March 25 in the Great Hall of Faneuil Hall.

With Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court presiding, the Chelmsford High School team became the champion following an intense, two-hour mock hearing.

"This is an exceptional demonstration of the very best of our students from across the commonwealth of Massachusetts," said Ireland. "This is some of the best lawyering I have seen in many, many years."

MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel
Photo by David Spink
MBA President Joseph P.J. Vrabel addressed the audience gathered for the state championship round of the Mock Trial competition.
Chelmsford High is now eligible to go on to the national championship in New Orleans in May.

The annual competition was organized by the MBA's Mock Trial Committee and sponsored for the fifth consecutive year by the law firm Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels LLP. A record 136 teams from across the commonwealth took part in this year's competition, and more than 200 lawyers and judges volunteered their time to serve as coaches, judges and committee members.

This year's Mock Trial case involved a search and seizure of a high school student and his belongings. While students visit a museum, there is an alleged terrorist disturbance caused by another individual. The museum is evacuated and, as the students are filing out, a high school student, the defendant, is singled out by a detail police officer. A search of the student's backpack reveals a small quantity of marijuana and a book about a hypothetical terrorist cult known as the Tanerbian Movement. The student claims he was racially profiled because he is affiliated with the Tanerbians. The case seeks to determine whether the search and seizure was a proper response to a terrorist threat or a case of racial profiling.

During the championship round, Chelmsford High played the role of prosecution and Sharon High represented the defense.

Though Ireland said he likely would have granted the motion to suppress if he were the trial judge on the case, the justice said Chelmsford High's performance as the prosecution team secured the win by one point.

"I tip my hat to all of the students," Ireland said. "I wish there was a way both teams could be declared winners."

The Sharon High School team was presented with a silver platter from the Massachusetts Bar Association for its hard work and strong effort.
Ireland applauded students from both teams for their great communication skills and ability to capture an audience - a skill he said is essential to becoming a great lawyer.

"Competing in the Mock Trial program opened your eyes to the future. You are all great public speakers, both witnesses and lawyers," said Ireland.

Ireland also said the mock case presented many important issues on civil liberties and the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Mock Trial season officially concluded April 9 during a reception for the top 16 teams and Mock Trial volunteers and sponsors at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston. During the reception, each team was recognized for its success and team members gave feedback about what the Mock Trial program meant to them.

"It was a tremendous and invaluable experience," said Amanda Butler-Jones of South High School in Worcester. "There's nothing like being able to argue a case. It gives you a real chance to develop skills I know I will one day use and find very helpful."

James E. McGuire of Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels LLP, a longtime Mock Trial supporter who also has served as volunteer coach and was a parent of Mock Trial students, said Mock Trial helps teenagers develop into accomplished citizens.

"(Mock Trial) isn't in the business of graduating baby lawyers," McGuire said. "It is about graduating citizens who can stand up in a challenge and argue both sides of a case … it's about looking at a world view and knowing you can have a position and respect the opposite point of view."

Mary Bassett-Stanford, a Mock Trial committee member and judge, commended the students and said she looks forward to working on the program next year.

"These final 16 high-school students classify this competition as one, if not the highlight of their high school career," Stanford said. "I was humbled to see exactly how much this all meant to these kids. They spoke about learning about 'team work' and the 'sum of the parts equaling the whole' throughout the process and all the hard work they put in. I loved the comments by all the team members and shared the pride they felt in their accomplishments."