The Verdict

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    GOSHEN-Is it possible for a team of lawyers to lose their case, yet be declared winners? Yes, if they are a Mock Trial team. Mock Trial, sponsored by the New York State Bar Association and locally by Orange-Ulster BOCES and the Orange County Bar Association, offers students and opportunity to play the role of lawyers and witnesses in a fictitious legal action. Local judges determine the winner in the mock legal action, based on the law and facts as presented. They then determine the winner of the competition, based on how well the students made their presentation, framed questions, cross-examined witnesses and summed up their cases. The witnesses' performances are also taken into account in determining the winner. Goshen High School won the Orange County Mock Trial championship on Tuesday, April 12, defeating John S. Burke Catholic High School, also in Goshen. Goshen will represent Orange County in Hudson Valley regional competitions on April 30 at the Orange County Court House in Goshen. The winner of the regional competition will go on to state finals in Albany, scheduled for May 18, 19 and 20. Goshen earned its berth in the finals by defeating Monroe-Woodbury in a hard-fought elimination round Saturday April 9. Town of Hamptonburgh Justice Edward P. Souto, who presided over the case told the students, "as a middle-aged person I am gratified to see young people who are our future in law, government and public service who are so thoughtful and caring." While many of the students were at a standard equal to young attorneys, Souto advised them to work on projecting their voices. "You have an amplification system, but judges and juries want to hear your voice - if you speak up you sound more confident," he said. "Speak loud, clear, slow and succinct." This year's case involved a young singer, Macca McLaughlin, whose parents held the singer's earnings (more than $800,000) in trust, but blew it all on a risky stock transaction. The dot-com boom and bust and crooked corporate executives form the backdrop for this case. Chester coach Ryan Reid said most Mock Trial cases are based on real cases that have been tried recently. Macca was not informed of the loss of a fortune, but only found out about it when he (or she, depending on the team) tried to withdraw money to pay a development fee to a record label. The parents' attorneys argued that they were trying to get the best return for their child and that the stock in question was considered an excellent investment until the company's CEO and chief financial officer were indicted for looting the company. Judges agreed that, based on the facts as presented, the defense had a tougher case to prove. The rules require that witnesses keep their testimony in line with affidavits they are given in the competition materials. Opposing lawyers, in addition to challenging questions or answers on the basis of law - such objections as ambiguity, hearsay and leading the witness - may also challenge on the basis of the affidavits and facts presented and on the rules of Mock Trial. For instance, an objection to asking more than three questions on redirect examination was sustained because the trial rules set this limit to keep the trial from exceeding the available time. In what may have been the toughest case to judge, Pine Bush defeated Warwick 34-33. Wallkill Town Justice Robert Freehill noted that 33 is considered a perfect score, but "there has to be a winner, so I had to go to a more esoteric kind of decision." He awarded a discretionary extra point to Pine Bush, which represented the defense. However, the judge gave his decision in the case to the plaintiff, saying "that was the easy part." Both teams gave "absolutely the best performances I has seen in many years of judging Mock Trials," he said. Monroe-Woodbury earned its shot in the semifinals by defeating Port Jervis by a scant point. Judge Catherine Bartlett, who has served as both Town of Goshen and Village of Goshen Justice presided. Goshen defeated Marlboro during the morning single-elimination round, with Judge Souto presiding. While it is unusual for the same judge to preside over more than one round with the same team, the competition director, Evelyn Schneider, said the other judge assigned to the afternoon session had a conflict of interest. Schools receive the Mock Trial materials packet in December. The 85-page book includes affidavits by all witnesses, copies of a previous court-ordered division of the young singer's income, contracts and the Prudent Investor Act, the section of law Macca's parents allegedly violated. The packet also includes the rules of evidence in legal cases and the special rules in Mock Trial competitions. Between December and late March or early April, the teams meet an average of six hours per week or more, students and coaches said. Each team has a faculty coach and a lawyer coach, who volunteers to work with a team in his or her local school. The case is scripted for three lawyers and three witnesses to appear at any given time, but many schools have students who appear only for the plaintiff or for the defense. Goshen, for instance, has completely separate plaintiff and defense teams. "We eat sleep and breathe Mock Trial," said Monroe-Woodbury's Justin Wright. Team members spend at least four hours of after school time each week, and often more, agreed his colleague Brian Herman. "Plus what we do on our own time."