Learning the court of law

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Bordentown Regional High School Mock Trial team reflects on competition

There are many facets stepping into a court of law.

The New Jersey State Bar Foundation High School Mock Trial competition allows high school students to not only learn about the facets whether it’s a lawyer, a witness, or even a member of a jury, but they literally become the different roles in the annual competition.

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The Bar Foundation also holds a courtroom artist competition.

Members of the Mock Trial team at Bordentown Regional High School know this firsthand as they have been gearing up year after year for the competition.

The team at Bordentown Regional, led by Debate Coach John Tobias, has done pretty well. Last year, they came in second out of 200-plus teams. This year, they came in the top 12 out of 209 teams.

County competitions were held in January and February. In March, regional, regional finals, semi-finals and the final competition were held at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.

During the 2023 competition season, the team poured their “heart and soul” into a libel social media gone wrong case.

Due to COVID-19, only senior Olivia McGlone had some experience stepping into a real courtroom for the competition during her freshman year. She has participated as a witness – very much like impromptu competitive acting – in all her four years on mock trial.

Tobias noted McGlone is a member of the school’s theater Thespian Society Troupe 6803. The team has a few members who are thespians.

This was the first time in three years that the competition was held in person.

“The transition to virtual to in-person was definitely challenging for some,” McGlone said. “Prior to this I was the only person on team who had been in person before. I kind of knew how it felt to be in the courtroom and had that pressure before of being watched by a real judge, real lawyers, have a jury look at me rather than speaking to an imaginary one.

“We all definitely had to adjust to knowing how to use our space, how to control our body language [since we were] no longer seen from [chest up]. We are actually [in the courtroom] with everyone’s eyes on you. Adjusting to that pressure added anxiety.”

For juniors Ajay Donthula and Jeremiah Paul, the in-person learning curve and transitioning from being witness roles to lawyer roles were challenges for them this year.

“The transition from witness to lawyer was a lot more difficult than we thought,” Paul said. “From just having to memorize direct examination as a witness and knowing how to find loopholes on cross [examination] to memorizing two direct examinations, knowing all the objections that we needed to use if we got objections on our direct examinations and how to object other people’s direct examinations.”

Donthula said mock trial was part of their everyday, which strengthened his time management skills of juggling sports, academics and mock trial. With prep time, the season runs from October through March.

“We kept practicing in the middle of class or even just the thought process behind [the case],” he said. “We were always thinking about how to heighten our cross examination, how to heighten our direct examination, how to counter points, our posture … it was part of our lives.”

For Tobias, he said he enjoys seeing the camaraderie and respect among team members and other students from other schools.

During the competition, the students received insight from those in the field including Christine A. Hoffman, an acting Gloucester County prosecutor.

“The mock trial competition is very realistic, and it demands that high school students to prepare and try a case like any attorney would do,” she said. “These students have to learn the fundamentals of our court system, while developing critical thinking and public speaking skills.

“They are amazingly dedicated, willingly putting in countless hours of preparation and practice. Their performances are of a high caliber and always impress the attorneys and judges involved in the program. It is rewarding to work with the students as they grow in confidence and skill, and hopefully some of them will join us in the future in this important profession.”

For more information about the Mock Trial competition visit njsbf.org.

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