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High School's Mock Trial Team Building on Students' Passions

Unlike competitors, Bridgewater-Raritan's team works outside the classroom—but some say that works in their favor.

Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School's four-year-old mock trial team has been growing, despite battling local teams with more time and school support. Credit: File photo
Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School's four-year-old mock trial team has been growing, despite battling local teams with more time and school support. Credit: File photo
A hushed courtroom listened intently, as the state presented its case in New Jersey vs. Sid Sawyer, a wrongful death caused by an allegedly drunk driver.

The attorneys and witnesses were students from Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School and Mount St. Mary Academy, but don't think that hindered the arguments—or testimony offered at the second round of the 2014 Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition on Jan. 9 at the Somerset County Courthouse, in Somerville. 

It was BRRHS's unfortunate luck to draw up against the vaunted Mount St. Mary team, which is seeking to repeat as county champs at the Jan. 29 finals, but the 12 BRRHS students on the team drew from the experience.

In the competition, the Bridgewater-Raritan students also faced teams from other public county schools in the county, some of which have teams practicing in mock trial classes, giving them an edge in time compared to Bridgewater-Raritan's club team. BRRHS students prepared for the competition on their own time, including weekends this year.

"The kids worked on Sundays preparing for the competition—that's never happened before," team advisor Kristen Taylor said. "We added the voluntary weekend practices and a lot of students took us up on that."

The students met at the offices of attorney Chris Corsini, who is the team's voluntary attorney coach helping to guide them on legal questions and practices that helps make the experience more realistic.

The school's mock trial team is only four years old but in the courtroom, it doesn't matter if you're a trial toddler or a team with a decades long line of championships (like Mount St. Mary)—it's about having a solid case, making your arguments and having credible witnesses.

BRRHS didn't advance past the second round, but the team did score points in its cases. Junior Kevin Wrobel won recognition as best witness for his testimony in the competition, which helped keep the team competitive.

Like most team members, Kevin is drawn to a career in law—he said he likes debate and the "intrigues" of the cases. As one of the students filling the roles of witnesses rather than lawyers, some might think he's chosen a less-rigorous task but they'd be wrong.

"As a witness, I get to add my own flair to it—as a lawyer, I don't think you get as much chance to do that," he said.

This is Kevin's first year on the team, and he said he'll be back after this year's short competitive season—despite his early fears.

"I won't lie—I was nervous," he said of his first time on the witness stand. He said he ultimately relaxed, guided by the practicing and rehearsals during those Sunday sessions. "Chris knows what he's doing and I trusted him."

The team's lawyers made their best efforts at presenting the case, taking a turn as prosecutorial attorneys, and as defense attorneys. The experience reinforced senior Sean Noonan's plans to pursue a career in law.

"It's definitely a path I'm interested in," he said during a break from watching his teammates on the defense for Sid Sawyer, days after he had been the prosecutor for the team. "The prosecution did well—we definitely had some strong points, which I was proud of."

Taylor praised her students, noting they developed the "fact pattern" used to build their case, one of the most crucial aspects of the mock trial process.

Corsini noted this year's cases were the first criminal cases the team has been assigned. "This is our fourth year and this is the best case we've had," he said.

Which left the students emboldened for next year's competition.  

"I've got a good feeling about next year," Kevin said.

The team won't be back at work until next September, when a new round launches, but Corsini said they plan to attend the finals to observe the teams the faced earlier making their closing arguments.



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