By ERIN ROLL
The case concerns the death of a police dog. Police were summoned to a nighttime party in the woods following complaints by neighbors. A teen panicked at the sight of the dog, and another student hit the dog with a bottle, causing his death.
The trial included testimony from the teens at the party, a neighbor living nearby the wooded area where the party was taking place, police officers and veterinarians.
This was the case that Montclair High School students were given to play as plaintiffs, defendants, prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors and witnesses.
After examining all of the circumstances presented as evidence, including whether the defendant may have mistaken the police dog for another dog from the neighborhood, a jury composed of their peers (students) determined whether the defendant should be found guilty of killing a law enforcement animal. The outcome was different for each trial and round.
Montclair’s team made it through four rounds of trials —local, county, regional quarter and regional semi-finals — competing in the New Jersey State Bar Foundation’s annual Vincent J. Apruzzese Mock Trial Competition. Montclair High School’s team is one of more than 200 teams to enter this year. The team of 17 students is scheduled to go on to the regional playoffs on Feb. 25. That standing puts the team in one of the top six teams.
This year is the first year that the team is competing without longtime coach George Burroughs, who coached the mock trial team for 30 years, said Natalie Parisi, one of three student captains, along with Gabe Weintraub and Mia Rodriquez-Vars. The team is working with three coaches — attorneys Stuart Rubin and Laurie Korenbaum, and teacher Sean Coogan — but the students themselves are taking on a lot of the coaching and preparation, Parisi said.
Winning the Essex County finals was a high point of the competition, since the Essex County finals have always been very competitive. But Montclair’s team has a tight bond with each other. “Watching each other succeed and watching each of us grow, is one of the most fulfilling parts of the trial,” said Parisi.
Both Montclair High School and Montclair Kimberley Academy were almost out of the competition early on because of a judging issue, but both teams managed to stay on for the quarter finals and the county finals, Weintraub said. “We’ve been rolling ever since.”
Both Parisi and Weintraub are optimistic about Montclair’s chances of making it to the state finals, and perhaps beyond. “We’ve had our eyes set on this from the beginning and that hasn’t changed.”
This is the first year that the team has been consulting with practicing attorneys, Weintraub said. That has given the team a better understanding of case theory,
The exact scores in the competition cannot be released prior to the final competition.
Montclair won in the Essex County finals, against a team from Montclair Kimberley Academy, and proceeded to hold its own in northern regional competition on Feb. 4.
Montclair High School has won the state finals twice in previous competitions, first in the 2000-2001 competition and again in the 2005-2006 competition, according to the foundation. The team from 2000-2001 also made it to second place in the National Mock Trial Competition in Omaha, Neb.
The New Jersey State Bar Foundation is the charitable and educational arm of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
The competition, now in its 38th year, was named for Apruzzese, a past president of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, in 1991.
The goal of the mock trial is to give students a look at how the legal and judicial system works, and to gain experience with public speaking.
Since each school’s team will be taking turns as the defense and the plaintiff or prosecution during each round of the competition, each team has one group of students that will act as the defense and one group that will act as the plaintiff or prosecution.
Montclair’s prosecution and defense teams have each presented four times. Each time the defense appeared, the defendant was acquitted. When the prosecution team competed, there was a guilty verdict three times out of four.
The state finals for the mock trial competition will be held on March 19.