Feb 07, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
This year’s Cazenovia High School’s Mock Trial Team is already gearing up for what should prove to be a challenging season of competition. High School Mock Trial is a program sponsored by the New York State Bar Association every year. Students from schools across the state compete starting in February, with the finalists traveling to Albany in May to try their cases before an actual judge of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division. The Cazenovia team will be competing against approximately 14 other schools from the general area this year.
Each year the case is different, alternating between a criminal or civil case. The committee tries to come up with interesting “pretend” scenarios that snatch facts from real-life headlines. This year is no different as the team is preparing to litigate a criminal case involving hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking).
In The People of the State of New York v. Penn HydraGas, Inc., a farmer finds that his animals are getting sick shortly after the defendant-company has started a hydrofracking operation in his village. Subsequent testing reveals that the village water has become contaminated. However, the case is not as one-sided as it might first appear, as the farmer had a diesel spill on his own property shortly before the hydrofracking started.
This case is particularly difficult as the charges must be proven on purely circumstantial evidence. Students must learn and master the same rules of evidence and trial tactics over a few short months that law students learn over the course of three years. Additionally, the team never knows what “judge” they might be appearing before, and have to think on their feet and adapt to each one in their effort to score points for the team.
Students must prepare both sides of the case and won’t know until shortly before each round whether they will be presenting the side of the prosecution or the defense.
Returning competitors include Lauren Ginocchetti and Brendan Wells for the prosecution. They will be joined this year by Sam Langan as they act as lawyers representing the People of the State of New York. When they put on their case they will be directing questions to: Farmer McDonald, played by Maggie Jones; Dr. Toolittle, the scientist who tested the contaminated water played by Mitch Britton or Phoebe Brackett; and Bobbie Jones, a former employee of the defendant whose recent firing was arguably proper or retaliatory.
The defendant, Penn HydraGas, will be represented by Sydney Dennison, Jack Woltman and Helen Barna. These students will be examining: Mitchell Tomley, the CEO of the corporation played by Nafisa Ibrahim; Dr. Marshall, a geologist for a lobbying organization played by Anthony Gory; and Billie Jo Simpleton, a former vice president of the company played by Colby Lucas or Abby Woltman.
Functioning in one of the most challenging roles will be newcomer Sophia Carroll who is currently preparing all witness parts as she will be asked to fill in for other students when scheduling conflicts arise over the course of the competition.
The students are coached by Hon. Elizabeth W. Koennecke, an administrative law judge for a local federal agency. The first round will take place Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Cazenovia High School, where the Cazenovia team will present the defense’s case. The second round will take place Thursday, Feb. 27, at Nottingham High School, where Cazenovia will present the side of the government.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.