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Lafayette College’s newly formed mock trial team, made up of 10 first-year students, was named an “Outstanding New Team” in its first official competition, an American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) regional tournament hosted by Princeton University Feb. 11-13.

Mock trial is a simulation of a bench trial (that is, a trial before a single judge) based on a hypothetical legal case using three attorneys and three witnesses per side. The tournament included 20 teams from colleges and universities in the Middle States area. In four rounds of competition, Lafayette defeated Penn State-Harrisburg, split a round with Penn State-University Park, and narrowly lost to Penn State-Altoona and Saint Vincent.

Megan Cottrell of Doylestown, Pa., Cherish O’Donnell (Toms River, N.J.), and Sarah Stocker (Harrison, N.Y.) won “Top Attorney” honors in individual rounds, while Kim Posocco (Scranton, Pa.), Seanna Dyer (Portland, Maine), and Sarah Rosenzwieg (Columbia, S.C.) were named “Top Witness.” Nearly all judges were attorneys in litigation firms in the region.

“It was a highly productive and very educational weekend. We competed in one of the toughest regions in the nation,” says the team’s director, Bruce Allen Murphy, Lafayette’s Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights. “For seven of our 10 competitors, it was the first mock trial experience of any kind. Given a bit more experience, the team will become a force to be reckoned with.”

Lafayette’s team also includes Katie Crisafulli (Flemington, N.J.), Colin Feehan (Hopewell Junction, N.Y.), Brian Heyesey (Hightstown, N.J.), and Robin Yudkovitz (Westfield, N.J.). The students have been coached by Gil Ozir, a 1996 Lafayette graduate who attended New York University Law School, and Carol Wright, the prelaw adviser at Lafayette.

“Mock trial puts a premium on the ability of competitors to use their creativity, intelligence, reasoning ability, and persuasive speaking skills to adjust as a team to varying circumstances in the trial,” Murphy explains. “Team members are scored not on the basis of whether the trial is won or lost, but how successfully each fills his or her role as attorney or witness.

The Princeton contest was one of 16 regional tourneys. Top regional performers advance to AMTA’s National Tournament (formerly called the Silver Flight Tournament) in St. Paul, Minn., March 31 through April 2. Advancing from Lafayette’s region were teams from Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, and St. John’s University.

To prepare for the regional competition, Lafayette’s team scrimmaged against a team from Middle Tennessee State University, one of the best teams in the nation, via videoconference on Feb. 3 and traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., to scrimmage against teams from Penn State-Altoona and Penn State-Harrisburg on Feb. 6.

The ATMA was founded in 1985 to give undergraduate students an opportunity to learn first-hand about the work of trial attorneys, understand the judicial system, develop critical thinking, and enhance communication skills. This year’s AMTA case concerns the accusation of “Ruel Ellis” a ne’er-do-well bricklayer, of murdering his best friend Cony Webber.

Complicating the situation, Murphy says, is the fact that “it’s not entirely clear that Cony is dead. The two men were seen fighting after one of their many sessions at the local bar, with Ruel alleged to be swinging a shovel, and then Cony disappeared. A pile of human bones was discovered in a river bed some six weeks later, and while the markings on the traumatized bones appear to fit perfectly with a shovel later found in an alley behind Ruel’s house, they are not clothed the same way as Cony had been on that fateful night.”

Categorized in: Academic News