mock and roll

Teens “Mock Around the Clock” at State Trial Championship

Severn School team members before the mock trialOn the last Friday in April, two high schools faced off in the Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis. One group had come from Severn School, a couple miles up the road, the other from Cumberland’s Allegany High School on the other side of the state. The courtroom was packed; extra seats were carried in from the hall to accommodate the overflow.

The Allegany High School team prepares for trialThe students were members of mock trial teams who had excelled during months of competition against teams from their neighborhoods and throughout the state, and had, just the day before, defeated their opponents in the semifinals at the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, a mile away. Now they were in the state’s highest courtroom, arguing their cases in one last trial before a three-member panel that included Judge Joseph F. Murphy, Jr., of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The trial may have been moot, but the stakes were real—this showdown was for the championship of the 2009 Mock Trial Competition. Each year, high school students throughout Maryland take part in the mock trial program, which is sponsored by the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program for the Schools of Maryland (CLREP), in cooperation with the Maryland Judicial Conference and Maryland State Bar Association. Since it began in 1983, almost 40,000 students from most counties in the state have participated. Maryland’s courts host local competitions during the academic year, and, in the spring, the two finalist teams compete in the state championship held in the Court of Appeals.

Team members, coaches, families and friends fill the Court of Appeals for the 2009 Mock Trial State ChampionshipThanks to live webcasting on the Judiciary’s Web site, most of the student body at Allegany High School watched the trial in real time, and students in Cumberland cheered and applauded when, in Annapolis, Judge Murphy congratulated “the team on the left side of the courtroom” and named the Allegany team the 2009 state champions.

It was, Judge Murphy declared, a “very, very close” decision. “I’m kind of sorry at a time like this that I can’t declare both sides to be winners, but unfortunately, that can’t be done. Both sides, of course, should feel very, very proud that you are here today in this courtroom in the finals.”

The Allegany High School Mock Trial champions with Court of Appeals Judge Joseph F. Murphy, Jr.After the event, Severn School’s coach put their loss into perspective. “It was, of course, a little heartbreaking to lose the championship,” said Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge J. Michael Wachs, who has volunteered as a coach for Severn’s mock trial team for several years. “But the whole experience has been invaluable for these students. They have learned so much about a society that operates under the Rule of Law, and so much in particular about how our justice system and our courts in Maryland operate.”

Judge Wachs is one of many judges and Judiciary employees across the state who help high school students each year by volunteering with the mock trial competition. “I want to congratulate the coaches and the faculty members who worked with you,” Judge Murphy said. “Obviously you learned from very talented, very thoughtful people and the quality of the coaching came through loud and clear in this performance.”

See the webcast of the championship on Justice Matters online at www.mdcourts.gov/education/mocktrial.html