Courtroom Battles Test High School Team's Preparedness

Hillsborough High School's mock trial team hope to advance to the Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition finals.

The Hillsborough Mock Trial team will need to present its case and witnesses Thursday in the semifinals of the county Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition. Credit: File photo
The Hillsborough Mock Trial team will need to present its case and witnesses Thursday in the semifinals of the county Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition. Credit: File photo
Before Hillsborough High School can claim the county title in the 2014 Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition, a familiar nemesis stands in the way: Mount St. Mary Academy, which topped Hillsborough last year to take the county crown.

"The semi-finals will be an enormous challenge as Mount St. Mary's has consistently been our toughest rival over the past 20 years," HHS Mock Trial Team Advisor Robert Fenster said.
The schools' rivalry may not quite equal William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, or Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger for that matter, but you can't always tell from the performances given in Somerset County courtrooms during the competition.

To win in the competition, which is organized by the Somerset County Bar Association, the team members must not only be able to present winning legal arguments as lawyers, but some will also be assigned the roles of witnesses, where the ability to credibly testify to the facts of the case are tested. In fact, some teams draw on the acting talents of drama students to bolster their witness roles.

The teams collect points based on the performance of the students acting in both prosecutorial and defense roles, and after a round held Jan. 9, Hillsborough will be ready to argue Thursday in the second round. The team will face either Mount St. Mary, Watchung Hills or Montgomery—Somerville, Immaculata, Ridge, BRRHS and Somerset Hills were eliminated (the top four teams advanced—Gill St. Bernard won last week but fell short of the cutoff).

The winning teams will advance to the Jan. 29 finals. 

During the competition, the student-lawyers present their motions and arguments before local lawyers volunteering to fill the roles of court administrators and judges. They'll prepare according to case fact sheets they are provided ahead of the competition—just as full-time attorneys do, even preparing to cite precedent and criminal code if necessary.

Fenster said this year's case file was sent to the schools a little late, which cut down on their time to prepare.

"With the school cancellations and delayed openings, we had far less practice than we normally have—but the HHS team did very well in the regular season winning both of its trials," he said.

Also, Fenster noted Joshua Jiang was named best attorney for the first trial, and Pooja Parwatkar was best attorney in the second. Jay Westreich was best witness in the second trial.

"Both Joshua Jiang and Becky Wendover did excellent jobs in their debuts as Mock Trial attorneys," Fenster said. "Ryan Vincent and Pooja Parwatkar, in their second year as attorneys, gave outstanding closing arguments pulling together both prepared remarks and improvised comments based on the content of the trials."

Each team also works with a practicing attorney, giving the students a closer look at the possibilities of a career in law.

"If they graduate with a better idea of whether this a career they might want to pursue, we've met our goal," Chris Corsini, an attorney with Mauro, Savo, Camerino, Grant and Schalk, who helps with one of the high school teams, said. "Confidence is a big part of it. Students join the team, many of them don't have much experience in public speaking.

"By the competition, they've basically become young lawyers," he added. "And the witnesses step into the shoes of their characters." 


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