An animal cruelty case stands as the centerpiece of this year’s MSBA Mock Trial Competition, the 30th year of the statewide program that uses a courtroom setting to educate high school students on the legal system.
“As is always the case this time of the year, we are very excited about the upcoming mock trial competitions,” says Shelley Brown, Assistant Director of Citizenship Law Related Education Program (CLREP), which administers the program in cooperation with the Maryland Judicial Conference Public Awareness Committee, the Executive Committee on Law Related Education, and the state’s Department of Education.
CLREP, MSBA’s educational arm in the state’s school system, reports that more than 52,000 students have participated throughout the program’s existence, and that 131 teams are competing this year.
This year’s case charges the defendant with abuse or neglect of an animal and with aggravated cruelty to animals – certain activities related to dog fighting prohibited.
The competition’s case is argued more than 600 times a year, says CLREP, and is designed to be topical. Given the local and national reports of animal abuse, plus the related legislative actions swirling around the State House in Annapolis this session, the organizers thought this matter was apt and important.
“If we educate about the importance of caring for animals and the penalties that potentially occur when one does not take proper care then perhaps we can have a preventative and protective role,” CLREP wrote in a letter to this year’s participating teachers and students.
“Given the continued problems with animal cruelty,” says Gary C. Norman, a past chair of the MSBA Animal Law Section and a current member of CLREP’s Executive Committee, “bar associations and their related affiliates and partners have an important role in shaping public conversations and remedies to such public health epidemics as animal abuse. Strategies, tools, and outreach, such as the mock trial competition that involves young persons, are important facets of inculcating a sense of the rule of law and of a better society for all.”
Mock Trial teams are grouped by Maryland’s eight Judicial Circuits and compete within those circuits. In competition, one team presents the defense’s case and portrays its witnesses, while the other presents the prosecution’s case and portrays those witnesses. Each team is coached by a teacher and a volunteer attorney, and each trial is argued in an actual courtroom, before a volunteer judge or attorney. Most teams devote more than 100 hours to prepare and strategize for the case, according to CLREP.
“During my involvement with the program, I’ve always been impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and creativity,” says Maryland Delegate Kathleen Dumais, who is also an attorney, a former Mock Trial coach and volunteer judge, and a member of CLREP’s Executive Committee.
Last year, Park High School of Baltimore County claimed the state title by defeating the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy of Montgomery County. This year’s Mock Trial championship will be held in mid- to late-April at the Robert C. Murphy Court of Appeals building in Annapolis.
Mock Trial, which fielded five teams its first year, added a few squads this year, particularly in Harford County. Harford now has teams at C. Milton Wright, Joppatowne, Havre De Grace, Edgewood, Harford Technical, and North Harford high schools.
“We are hopeful that their involvement will continue,”says Brown. “Mock Trial is a wonderful opportunity for students – one that all schools should consider.”