Trial by fire
Students learn legal system through competition
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Mar 27, 2013 | 2432 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PRACTICE – Sara Boutrs and Ashley Areopagita practice for their Mock Trial competition.
PRACTICE – Sara Boutrs and Ashley Areopagita practice for their Mock Trial competition.
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PRACTICE -- John Mankarious judges his fellow competitors at Mock Trial.
PRACTICE -- John Mankarious judges his fellow competitors at Mock Trial.
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COURTROOM DRAMA – Students play out roles they played during Mock Trial competitions earlier this year.
COURTROOM DRAMA – Students play out roles they played during Mock Trial competitions earlier this year.
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COURTROOM DRAMA – Students play out roles they played during Mock Trial competitions earlier this year.
COURTROOM DRAMA – Students play out roles they played during Mock Trial competitions earlier this year.
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The Anna J. Herbert meeting room at Bayonne High School became a courtroom for a day on March 18 as students gathered to reenact the case that allowed them to reach the regional Mock Trial Finals for the second time in three years. The mock trial is part of a tradition of successful debates that has allowed to Bayonne teams to dominate the competitions since they started in the 1980s. About 20 BHS students participated in this year’s competition, which, according to Martin Gurczeski, started the first week of the school year in September. “The kids knew that the case was released in last August and were anxious to read it and get ready,” he said. The trial revolves around a pet owner whose competition-winning dog had fleas, and after the owner gave the dog two different treatments, the dog has an allergic reaction and eventually dies. The owner is suing the manufacturer of the flea medication for damages. Mock Trial is a competition that is run by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and is organized on the county level by the Hudson County Bar Association. With a majority of the students from this year’s team graduating in June, Gurczeski thought it would be a good idea to record the trial so that future teams could study it in detail when getting ready for their own competitions. “We began working on the case in September every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” he said. Gurczeski attributed a lot of the success of the team to its coach, Randy Grossman. “He understands the protocol better than anybody in terms of where the kids need to stand and the proper procedures in terms of approaching witnesses,” he said. “A lot of schools are very scripted and basically go off the paperwork that is given to us. Our students study the characters and know the case inside and out. They just have fun with it.” The judges of the competition are real judges and lawyers from the county bar association. “So the students are getting real feedback from real judges both on the municipal and county level, and from lawyers as well,” he said. What kinds of students get involved in this? “A lot of times there are students who are looking for careers in legal careers. Sometimes it’s just kids that enjoy hanging out on a Saturday morning at the ice rink,” he said. The students vary in age and are in grades nine through 12. “Unfortunately, we are losing a majority of the team,” he said. “We’re recording the case this year so they can see it next year. Some of our seniors will be in contact and we have a good group coming back next year – five or six of them.” On average, the group has about 20 students, but the team only needs 10 people for the competition. There are always backups for the witnesses. Sometimes they have replacements for main characters. Each year the case alternates between criminal and civil. “This is so that the kids get a good understanding of the differences between the types of cases,” he said. Usually the competitions take place at the Brennan Courthouse, but over the last two years, because of ongoing renovations there, the competitions were conducted in the newer courthouse next door on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. Competition began on Jan. 28 with the team from Weehawken facing off against St. Dominick’s Academy. Bayonne advanced to the quarterfinals, where they faced Union City High School. Later in the finals they competed against McNair Academic High School. In a back-and-forth fight, Bayonne High School emerged victorious and moved onto the North Regional Quarterfinals, where they lost in a tight match against the winning team from Bergen County.

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“I got really interested in it. I went and had a great time, and really enjoyed it.” – Sara Boutrs

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Student reaction Ashley Areopagita, a junior, hopes to go onto the state tournament next year. This was her first year as one of the attorneys. She said she got involved with the program when she had classes with Gurczeski. “He convinced me to join and I really liked it,” she said. “I like everyone in it. It feels like a giant family. I like the organization. I like going to the files to research. Last year I was an extra witness, and that’s all informational instead of having a personality.” She said one of the harder things for her was memorizing the opening statement which is about four minutes long. She said she originally leaned towards becoming a doctor, but now has been thinking of political science or criminal justice. Sara Boutrs, a senior, said she started in her sophomore year. “I got really interested in it. I went and had a great time, and really enjoyed it,” she said. “So I figured to do it for the rest of my high school career.” The first year, she played an expert witness. She said the memorization is the challenge, as well as acting naturally while she is competing. “When you have a script in your mind and trying to get everything out in front of a jury or a judge, it kind of gets a little tense. You have to be prepared,” she said. “If you have to call an objection, you have to do it immediately; you can’t wait 10 minutes later.” She’s not sure which college she will be attending, but she intends to major in political science with a goal of becoming a politician or a lawyer. “I really have a passion for it. I have a passion for justice and a passion for equality, and I feel if I were lawyer, I would bring justice to whoever my clients were. If I were a politician, I’d like to help everyone.” Shavangi Parmar, a senior, also played a lawyer this year and has been involved with the program for three years. The most challenging part is being a lawyer and being very impromptu. “When you’re up there you always have to know what your objections are and know what the right time is to make your objections,” she said. “I would say the witnesses have more of a role to play and we coordinate the witnesses. So it is our responsibility to make everything seem very natural. We also have to watch our attitudes in front of the witnesses and the judges.” Parmar is going to Harvard in the fall, and plans to major in neurobiology. John Mankarious, a senior, played the judge for the reenactment but in the competitions he played the CEO of a company that evaluates dogs, he gives testimony of what the dog’s competition winnings might have been had it lived. “The challenging part was not specifically the value, but instead it was coming up with sources, but not radical sources,” he said. Mankarious said he didn’t have to do a lot of research, but realized that the manner in which he might say something in the competition could make a big difference. He will be attending Rutgers University next year, and has an eye on a career in aerospace. “I started when I was a sophomore and my brother was a senior on the Mock Trial team. He told me to come along, and that’s how I started and got addicted,” Mankarious said.
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