Articles & News 2004

The 2004 Pennsylvania Mock Trial Competition, Championship Round for the North Central Region as reported by the:

Williamsport Sun Gazette

WAHS could advance to state finals
School named unofficial winner during regional mock trial competition
Becky Lock Sun-Gazette Staff

The fate of Max Ability, an 18-year-old student with Asperger’s Syndrome, was in the hands of 10 high-schoolers Monday afternoon.

Ability, a fictitious defendant, and his equally fictitious peers were represented by members of two mock trial teams from Williamsport Area High School and Central Catholic High School, DuBois. The schools, champions in their respective districts, were competing in the regional finals of the 2004 Pennsylvania Mock Trial competition before federal Judge Malcolm Muir in the U.S. District Court.2004 Mock Trial

From teams of lawyers and the judge to law clerks and a jury, the atmosphere within Muir’s courtroom was similar to a real trial.

Mock trials are “a great opportunity for high school students to be introduced to the judicial system,” said Brian J. Bluth, an attorney who volunteered his time to serve on the mock jury.

The competition, which is sponsored by the state Bar Association through its Young Lawyers division, is in its 20th year.

Bluth, who is in his third year of participation with the program, said he enjoyed the experience.

“I think this was the most professional, well-executed competition I’ve seen. Both sides implemented the theory of the case and focused on the real issue, not superfluous ones. Their objections were well placed and well argued, too,” said Bluth, who is with the McCormick Law Firm on West Fourth Street.

Team members have had since late October to prepare for each stage of the competition. The gist of their case revolves around Ability, a teenager who suffers from a form of autism. He is charged with theft by unlawful taking and unlawful use of an automobile.

Students follow a set of rules and present their cases, then end with a closing directed to the jury and await a decision.

Monday’s unofficial results gave the win to the defense, or the Williamsport team. With six of 10 favorable scoresheets, it appears Williamsport will advance to the state finals, which begin March 26.

“I’ve probably seen 100 competitions and the teams who make it to the regional finals are the cream of the crop. They did a really good job,” said John P. Pietrovito, mock trial regional coordinator.

Pietrovito will announce official results by Wednesday.

In addition to learning the ins and outs of the court system, students polish skills they can use in everyday life.

“I think the kids learn how to improve their public speaking skills,” said Craig Niklaus, teacher-adviser for the Williamsport team. “It helps them develop the ability to think on their feet and they are forced to master a complex set of facts and construct clear, convincing arguments from them.”

Williamsport team members who participated in this trial were Chad Chervinsky, Matthew Seeley, Jeremy Hurwitz, Christie Otto and Carol Ma. Central Catholic’s team consisted of Matt Homer, Barbara McCarthy, Steve Zimmerly, George Heigel and Molly Vallely.

Each team dubbed a student from the opposing team as the best advocate (attorney) and best witness. Chervinsky and Homer were named the best advocates, while the best witnesses were Ma and Heigel.

“I was surprised at the abilities shown by the (students),” Muir said. “I thought it went very well. It’s a wonderful experience, and I’m sure that it’s going to engender a desire in some of them to go to law school.”

That has been the case for Carol Korthaus, the teacher-advisor from Central Catholic, who said some of the audience members were program graduates who are now enrolled in pre-law college studies.

However, Niklaus, a former lawyer, said most of his team members are planning to study math and science.

The mock trial program relies heavily on volunteers, including lawyers and law clerks who offer their aid as jury members and attorneys who advise teams. Williamsport’s attorney adviser — Eric R. Linhardt — “contributes hours and hours,” Niklaus said.

If Williamsport is officially deemed the regional winner, the team will go on to a pair of trials in Harrisburg.

The teams that earn undefeated titles after that will move on to other rounds. The top two teams then compete for the final championship on the floor of the state Senate, Niklaus said.

It would be the local team’s second trip to state competition. Two years ago, the high school team ranked eighth out of 20 teams.