Tuesday, January 17, 2006

May It Please the Court

I spent most of my time at the university this weekend rather than lazing around my apartment and sleeping until noon. No, I haven’t suddenly decided to start studying like a real law student. I was volunteering as a judge for a high school Mock Trial tournament.

I have fond memories of my own stint on my high school Mock Trial team. I was nearly the only student who didn’t have dreams of going to law school—and ironically, I believe I’m almost the only one who actually ended up going to law school. I was the master of cross examination and literally made at least one witness cry on the stand in each of our trials. Our team coach, who was a prosecutor in my hometown, once expressed the fervent hope that should I ever go to law school, that I not join the local public defender’s office. I also found it great fun to find ways to get the other side’s key testimony excluded.

Isn’t it strange that I have no desire whatsoever to go into litigation of any kind?

Anyway, the view from the other side of the bench is quite different. The kids are so adorable in their little suits, I just want to scream. And then they stand up and say things like “Objection! This is hearsay!” “Your honor, this testimony is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter at hand.” and I just want to pinch their little cheeks. My favorite moment was when one attorney began his opening statement by smiling at the bench and saying “Good afternoon, ladies”. A hysterical mental image of what would happen if you addressed a judge in the real world as “lady” kept me entertained for several minutes.

Anyone who wants to test their knowledge of hearsay exceptions should volunteer as a judge for these things. Their materials intentionally build in numerous examples of testimony, the admissibility of which is dubious. Prior bad act? Statements made by the murder victim to a third party? Excited utterance? Got ‘em all.

At the end of each round, the judges offered comments to the teams. In one round, you could tell that one team was feeling pretty down because they’d lost several important skirmishes over admissibility of their testimony. The problem was that their questions were phrased in a way that left the answers open to attack on grounds of relevance and hearsay. The problem was compounded by the fact that they didn’t know the Rules of Evidence well enough to argue the case for admitting the testimony. When it came time for comment, they were unable to hide the naked expressions of pleased surprise when I had high praise for their performance. The fatal flaw in their line of questioning didn’t change the fact that their opening and closing statements were not only well structured but moving, and their witnesses were very well prepared and held their own on cross examination. They took copious notes when I talked to them about how they could work to improve their questions and move to protect them from attack, and left the room looking much, much more pleased with their performance. I bet the one attorney on that team was even more surprised to learn that I’d chosen her as the Outstanding Attorney in that round.

I wonder how many of the kids we saw today harbor dreams of a career in the courtroom? How many of them will end up in law school? How many of them will choose an area of law that will actually offer them the chance to enter the courtroom on a regular basis?



At 2:34 PM , Blogger Rebecca said...

Aw, how cute. I *loved* mock trial in high school, and I never had any intention of going into law (which is probably good, since I'm pretty sure I stunk :) )

At 9:29 PM , Blogger EEP said...

sign of a tired eep: reading part of this amusing post to read "Objection! This is heresy!"


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