By Gabriella Shery ‘17
With fierce determination, a team of 12 ambitious Hornets filed into the Federal Court Building.
Mr. Stuart Rothstein, the Mock Trial instructor said, “The team worked alongside their coaches in preparation for their latest competition against the Brooklyn Latin School, on March 16.” The team’s previous competition was on March 9, in which they won against the School of Law and Government.
On March 16, the Mock Trial team faced Brooklyn Latin School and lost by one point because the judge approved of the opposing team’s factual pattern more.
According to legaldictionary.com, a factual pattern is a description of all the occurrences or circumstances of a particular case without any discussion of their consequences under the law.
Solovyeva said, “The whole team was devastated. We put so much time and effort into this case that it felt infuriating to lose by just one point.”
Every season, Mock Trial is assigned a new case, and then the team decides on roles. The team is comprised of defense lawyers, prosecution lawyers, and witnesses. Lawyers from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP dedicated two days of their week to coach the Mock Trial team so that they were prepared for court. Mock Trial starts in December of every year, when the New York State Bar Association assigns a case for the students to work on with their coaches.
According to criminal.lawyers.com, the role of a defense attorney is that of an advocate for the accused, bearing the responsibility of representing the client’s interests. A prosecuting attorney is held accountable for gathering information from research and police reports. He or she then proceeds to present his or her case against the accused defendant in a cross-examination. Finally, a witness is someone who has relevant information about a crime. During the discovery period, lawyers are allowed to learn about all the evidence that may affect the case through a witness’ testimony prior to the trial.
Mr. Rothstein said, “This is an excellent program where students have the opportunity to learn more about public speaking and how to argue effectively. They are also given the chance to have intellectual conversations about the case they’re assigned.”
This year’s case, the People vs. Kelly Roberts, centers around a man, Kelly Roberts, who was caught exchanging something presumed to be drug related in a well-known drug spot occupied by the police at the time of the incident. Consequently, the officers chased him down until they reached an abandoned building in which he was squatting. There, the police found an empty pill bottle and an open window, through which Roberts escaped.
Polina Solovyeva ‘17 is playing the role of a prosecution lawyer, who opens the case to the judge at the beginning of the trial. Her team is arguing that the search the police conducted was justified due to probable cause. The officers said that they searched the yard because there was a hole in the fence, and a child could’ve gotten through and consumed the pills, considering there is a daycare right next to the abandoned building.
“It was an emergency situation, and I feel that the police acted accordingly,” she said.
High schools within New York State are broken up into districts, and only one team from each district makes it into state finals. Solovyeva added, “If we won the finals we would’ve been able to go to Albany to compete against all the other schools in the state.”
Mr. Rothstein commented, “No win is ever guaranteed. It all depends on the judge… Every judge runs his or her courtroom differently, and so the judge’s final decision can sometimes feel like a surprise.”
Another issue that the team learned to overcome is coming to competitions without notes, relying instead on their memory. “The team works on their cognitive memory skills and their powers of persuasion while they’re in the law firm, where they’re plied with a variety of snacks and beverages, like cookies and soda,” he said.
Zoe Sarullo ‘18 plays the role of the defendant, Kelly Roberts.
“Playing Kelly Roberts has been my favorite role thus far. I really enjoy being able to get creative by adding personal touches to my character during the trial,” she said. Not only did the theatrical aspect of Mock Trial appeal to Sarullo, but the team as well.
“I enjoy all of the people on my team. They’re all so dedicated that I feel they have influenced me to be just as committed, maybe even more so,” Sarullo added.
Solovyeva added, “I get to hang out and work on cases with my closest friends. … I’ve loved all the roles I’ve been assigned, and I now know that I might want to pursue the field of law.”
The NYS Bar Association provides high school students with the opportunity to work on teamwork, critical thinking, and public speaking through an introduction to the justice system.
Amanda Esau ‘17 believes that playing the role of a defense lawyer has helped her become more confident in public speaking. When objected to, a defense lawyer must keep a straight face and go on with the case, regardless if the objection is sustained or overruled.
“As a general life lesson, Mock Trial has shown me that I have to soldier on if I want to achieve my goals,” she said. The Mock Trial Team has consistently come out in the top four schools in the city. However, the rank is only one incentive.
Sarullo added, “I’m truly grateful to have participated because the skills I have learned in speaking confidently and thinking on my feet are essential for everyday life.” She doesn’t know whether or not she wants to pursue a career in law, but she appreciates Mock Trial for allowing her to become a more mature and confident individual.