A number of Park School students recently went to court several times. But those trips were for a good reason. They were members of the Park Mock Trial team, which participated in the Maryland Mock Trial program over the past few months.
Park won the tournament with a victory against Baltimore City College in the championship round on Apr. 28 after arguing a case in the Court of Appeals in Annapolis.
Park handled the defense in a case involving the actions of a person in the Flint, Mich., water crisis. The judge found for the defense (Park), but those scoring the trial gave the Bruins a 50-45 victory. That scoring is what gave Park the title.
“The kids, they basically love it,” said Tony Asdourian, the team’s advisor. “It’s a fun version of intellectual combat. It doesn’t have the stakes of the real world.”
Park now has won the Mock Trial competition four times, including consecutive victories in 2011 and 2012.
This program takes place in cooperation with the Maryland Judicial Conference and the State Bar Association. The Citizen Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland sponsors the high school Mock Trial competition every school year.
It started in 1983 with nearly 50,000 students from most counties across the state. This year, 146 schools took part.
Many of the “trials” take place in either district or circuit courts, with the top four teams advancing to Annapolis for the state semifinals. The winners of the semifinals advance to the state finals.
Schools received their cases back in November, and then played through five matches on a circuit when the trials began in January. Park won all of those – each one dealing with the same case — before capturing the Baltimore County and regional rounds. Those victories earned the Bruins a shot at the state final four.
Park had 11 members on its team, some of whom served as witnesses, and Asdourian said the Bruins often spent 12 hours a week in preparation. As the team got ready for the trials, Park also received plenty of help from three lawyers – Guido Porcarelli, Jim Wyda and Matt Rogers – who guided them and provided advice and insight.
The students often connected at night on this case after handling other activities like clubs and sports.
“We certainly worked hard at it,” said Spencer Levitt, a junior who gave the opening statement in each of the final two trials. “The last five to six months, we’ve been meeting three or four or maybe five to six times a week, sometimes staying at school as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m.”
Montana Love and Mollie Eisner also served as attorneys for Park, which was defending Sam Saratoga, a school superintendent charged with reckless endangerment and misconduct in office relating to her actions involving drinking water during the Flint crisis.
Park defeated Potomac’s Winston Churchill High School in the state semifinal before beating City College in the championship.
Eisner, a senior who handled the closing arguments in the last two trials in Annapolis, said she learned a lot from the opportunity.
“It’s been a very important experience in my life,” said Eisner, a senior headed to Bowdoin College in Maine next year. “You can use the law to fight for people’s rights. On a very basic level, it also taught me that I could do it, that I could stand up in front of judges and lawyers and present a closing argument.”
Asdourian is the co-math department chair at Park. This was his first year as the top advisor, and it proved enjoyable for him as well as the team despite the large time commitment.
“Both lawyers and witnesses have a lot of work to do,” Asdourian said. “Each school has its own approach. The more you do it, the deeper it goes.”
Photos courtesy of Carolyn Summers and Stephanie Love
A video of the championship round trial between Park and City can be found at: http://www.courts.state.md.us/coappeals/media/2017mocktrialchampionship1mbps.mp4
Jeff Seidel is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
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