On Friday, April 19, Annapolis High School of Anne Arundel County took claim of its first state title in the MSBA High School Mock Trial Competition after defeating Allegany High School of Allegany County. Performing before judges, families, and peers, the opposing teams produced an astounding match in the Robert C. Murphy Court of Appeals Building in Annapolis.
This case may remind some of a highly publicized Michael Vick case from a few years ago. In the Mock Trial case, the state charged the defendant, Danny Harding, with seven counts of animal neglect and abuse as well as aggravated cruelty of animals. The number of counts are due to the amount of animals found in the homes that showed signs of abuse and neglect. Harding, pleading innocent, said these animals were rescued from unsavory conditions and he was caring for animals, not harming them. However, the state and its witnesses present a different case depicting an owner who cared little for the well being of these seven pit-bull mixes.
This championship match showcased skillful student-examiners and witnesses. Although each side had their own way of cross-examining, the witnesses – from the stern animal control officer who was first called to the scene, to the veterinarian who proclaimed no foul play from the dog owner – were never shaken. Even when answers were limited to yes or no responses, no witness backed down in telling his or her side to the story.
“I really consider this competition to be extremely important,” admitted the Hon. Dale Cathell, Court of Appeals of Maryland, who ruled on the championship match. Judge Cathell noted how he had been involved with Mock Trial since the ’80s and was amazed at both the growth of the program and the skills presented in the courtroom by the students.
“I am impressed by all of you and would welcome you all to the Bar,” he said.
This final match concluded the 30th year of the MSBA High School Mock Trial Competition. And as the number of student and school participants continues to grow, the program’s main goal remains steadfast: it wants participants to further understand the law, trial procedures, and the role of attorneys and judges in and outside of the courtroom.
This is a program that brings in students who are not afraid to put in long hours in order to succeed. Not only does Mock Trial have a lasting effect on the students who participate in the competition every year, but it does something for the coaches as well.
“As a coach, I get to work with some of the brightest young minds,” said Allegany High School teacher coach Brian White, “and it is a privilege to work with such a dynamic group of young people. Students get a true feeling of being on a team that each member cares about each other. The ability to articulate ideas in quick manner always comes to mind for the students.”
Annapolis High, serving as the prosecution in the final match and consequently becoming the first all-female team champion, exhibited no hesitation as it went up against Allegany, which has an outstanding record in Mock Trial competition: though Allegany has only won the championship once, in the last ten years, the school’s team has competed in the state semifinals six times and the finals three times.
“Our team has steadily improved over the course of five years,” said Marlene Ramsey, teacher coach for Annapolis High School. “This year, experience and exceptional talent combined to give us a winning team that just couldn’t be stopped. We weren’t really too nervous at the semifinals and state championship trials because we were just thrilled to have made it that far. We practiced for hours Thursday night and that’s when we began to think we could win the championship!”
“[This program] recognizes critical thinking, analysis, and oratorical skills”, said Ellery M. “Rick” Miller, Executive Director of Citizenship Law Related Education Program (CLREP) in his closing remarks to the students. CLREP serves as MSBA’s educational arm in the state’s school system and administers the statewide Mock Trial Competition in cooperation with the Maryland Judicial Conference Public Awareness Committee, the Executive Committee on Law Related Education, and the state’s Department of Education.
“I have been doing this for 15 years and consider it a premier event,” said attorney Sara Arthur, who served as a competition judge and is a member of the MSBA Board of Governors. “I think it’s a great thing for our lawyers to be involved, especially in giving back to the high school students and peak their interests in law.”
“The sacrifice some of these students make – like giving up their weekends to prep for their cases and the work they put into making their arguments – it’s what this program is all about,” said Shelley Brown, CLREP’s Assistant Director.
Although students do want to win the competition, win or lose all of the students grow from their participation within the program.
“I believe that the success of the program comes from the competition,” White continued. “I believe that the way in which CLREP has set up the state championship gives students something to strive for. And once they have had success at the regional level or at the finals, it breeds an expectation within the school, and students to strive for that excellence.”