WHHS Mock Trial Team advances in competition
Posted on 02/18/2014
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WEST HAVEN, Dec. 13, 2013 — The West Haven High School Mock Trial Team has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Civics First Mock Trial high school competition after presenting a fictitious court case concerning a train and car collision.

Members will compete next month at Trumbull High School against other schools from across the state, in hopes of progressing to the state championship. The West Haven team has five state championship titles—the most of any school in the state—and secured the last one in 2005.

“I think we have a lot of work to do, and I feel like there is a lot of potential to be explored in the court case. I’m excited about it,” said WHHS senior Catherine DePino, team co-captain with Brian Clifford. “It’s really formal and tricky. There’s a lot of critical thinking and teamwork.”

The WHHS team advanced in the competition by defeating Choate Rosemary Hall in the first day of regionals at New Haven Superior Court earlier this month and receiving an automatic bid on the second day when a team set to compete against West Haven left the competition.

The contest requires that mock trial teams prepare arguments for both sides of the case and hold a trial in front of local lawyers who volunteer to serve as judges. During each session, a school’s defense team faces off against another school’s plaintiff team.

Teams must have all material memorized for trials in the quarterfinals. West Haven members opted to memorize the case for the regionals, as well. That means committing to memory everything from mundane details about a witness’ work experience, to step-by-step questions posed by an attorney, to detailed and rather lengthy opening and closing arguments.

The task requires rehearsals—for WHHS students, those take place at school and in the City Hall Harriet North Courtroom—and practice in the art of public speaking. Members must anticipate strategies employed by other mock trial teams and pay close attention to details revealed as the case plays out in court during the competition. Students take on roles of attorneys and witnesses, and while some are on either the defense or plaintiff team, a few, such as DePino, play roles on both sides.

All teams in the competition present the same fictitious civil case. This year’s case is a wrongful death lawsuit that was lodged by a family of a teen boy against a railroad company.  The railroad’s train crashed into a car carrying the teen, resulting in the teen’s death. To develop and understand their roles, the WHHS team does an extensive amount of research and this year even met with Amtrak Deputy General Counsel Michael Stern and lawyer George Cahill, who has represented many plaintiffs in railroad cases.

WHHS mock trial team adviser Ron Conlon has been there to guide students every step of the way for about 16 years. He said the WHHS Mock Trial Team members will continue practicing over the next few weeks and that he’s proud of the work they put into preparing for regionals. He feels it’s helping them prepare for the rigors of college in the areas of collaboration, research and public speaking.

“I’ve got a wonderful team,” he said, adding that he’s watched the students gain confidence in themselves and their abilities by working on the mock trial project.

The team also receives assistance from WHHS alumni who went on to become successful lawyers. Shari-Lynn Cuomo Shore, a Hamden-based lawyer, is one of those former students who has offered advice to the team during rehearsals and attended the regional round in New Haven Superior Court.

“I started helping out as an attorney coach in 2008. Without the West Haven High School mock trial program, I don’t think I ever would have decided to be lawyer, so I’d like to give back to the program that helped me out,” she said.

Shore said she was pleased with the students’ performance during regionals.

“The first week, they went against Choate, and they did very well.  They were very professional, and you can tell they’ve put a lot of effort into it,” she said. “Over the next week, we prepared for the plaintiff’s side. You can tell they stepped it up a notch and were able to begin analyzing the case, instead of just memorizing it.”

Quarterfinals are set for Jan. 28.

Contact: Communications Director Susan Misur, 203-937-4300 X7114; susan.misur@whschools.org