Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : June 2006

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Building Bridges to Tomorrow

~Severna Park High School victorious as Mock Trials conclude; final installment in a three-part series~

"The builder lifted his old gray head/ Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,/ "There followeth after me today/ A youth whose feet must pass this way./ This chasm that has been naught to me/ To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be./ He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;/ Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."

- William Allen Dromgoole,
"The Bridge Builder"

Though the Honorable Clayton Greene, Jr., did not recite this poem until the Awards Luncheon that followed the 23rd Annual MSBA High School Mock Trial State Championship, the words resounded throughout the Robert C. Murphy Court of Appeals Building in Annapolis, where the championship was held on April 28.

Tensions and nerves rode high as the mock trial teams from Severna Park High School and Park High School entered into Maryland's highest court, prepared to face off in the final match. The anxiety in the courtroom was palpable as Judge Greene rose to announce that Severna Park had captured their first Mock Trial Championship by a narrow margin over Park. Shrieks, tears and hugs immediately erupted throughout the room as the teams congratulated each other on a well-played match.

"You are all winners here today," Greene noted, adding how this was a "grand opportunity" for the students and that "it was truly a joy to watch your performance."

That both teams had gained more than a plaque certainly rang true with the packed courthouse, which met the conclusion of the two teams' closing arguments with a standing ovation.

"From start to finish it was a stellar performance," said Greene. "The [student] lawyers worked and labored with the case. Both teams succinctly and concisely presented [their] cases."

Plaintiff Severna Park and Park, the Defense, jockeyed for the upper hand throughout the match with the use of a series of objections and contrived maneuvers. The case, as it was all year, pertained to the Maryland Reporter Shield Law – the protection of a reporter's anonymous source in the face of a criminal investigation. In this particular case, the Plaintiff tried to prove that a reporter from The Baltimore Sun had had contact with June Harris and her son, whom she had kidnapped, and had knowledge of their whereabouts. The Defense maintained that there was not enough solid evidence to prove that the reporter had been in contact with Harris and, therefore, did not have to reveal his sources. To this end, the Defense employed a high-risk, all-or-nothing approach to combat the Plaintiff's arguments, which ultimately cost them some points.

"I am proud [the students] pushed forward with the strategy knowing it was a risk," said Tina Forbush, Park's teacher-coach for the last six years.

From the start, Park's strategy stipulated that any information pertaining to Harris's being an unfit mother be disallowed because of its irrelevance to the case (Park employed a similar tactic in the 2004 competition and was a major component to their victory in that year's championship). Park objected to Severna Park's calling of a social worker to the stand, stating that her testimony would be irrelevant. The move took both the Judge and Plaintiff by surprise, leaving the case at a standstill. After thorough contemplation, however, the Judge allowed the witnesses' testimony.

"We knew it could go either way – the Judge was fair in letting the case worker testify," said Forbush, admitting that, due to the ruling, the objection had made them "look too aggressive and over objecting."

Each team was broken into two factions: three members played attorneys while three others served as witnesses. The competition was scored by Greene, Sara Arthur and Alice Chong, who each graded different categories. Attorneys were evaluated on their opening and closing statements, as well as their examinations and cross-examinations of witnesses. Conversely, witnesses were graded on their performance, including their believability, credibility and knowledge of the affidavit.

"The teams were well-matched," noted Shelley Wojciechowski, Assistant Director of Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), which organizes the Mock Trial Competition. "It was a fair and balanced competition. Great atmosphere for students who are learning law."

"You are all fine ambassadors of our democracy, and it's a reason for celebration," MSBA President-Elect Edward J. Gilliss told the students. "The law is a wonderful career path."

The path for the lawyers of tomorrow is a long and winding road, but through programs like the MSBA High School Mock Trial Competition and under the guidance of today's lawyers, these students are endowed with the navigational tools necessary for successful passage.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June 2006

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