Learning the letter of the law: FDU’s mock trial team competes at Monmouth tournament

By Dan Landau
 
On a bright summer day in 2010, 11-year-old neighbors Jesse Duran and Sydney Park played together while their parents were at work. In the course of unsupervised play, Jesse and Sydney found a gun owned by Sydney’s parents and while playing, the gun discharged, killing Sydney. His grieving parents have taken Jesse’s parent to court with a wrongful death suit.
 
Fortunately, this tragedy is complete fiction.
 
Park v. Duran is the American Mock Trial Association’s (AMTA) 2014-2015 case and it’s the case that the Fairleigh Dickinson University Florham Campus mock trial team argued at Monmouth University’s Jersey Shore “Hawk” Invitational Tournament on December 6 and 7.
 
mock trialAbove: The FDU mock trial team at the Morris County Courthouse with Judge Daniel Roberts (center). Roberts presided over an FDU intra-team scrimmage on December 4. (Photo courtesy of Madelyn Ferrans)
 
 
The AMTA writes a new case each year, which students then argue in a court-like setting in front of judges. The Park v. Duran case is a civil case — no prosecutors are involved and no one is being threatened with jail time. The plaintiffs and defendants can sculpt their theory and arguments in the case based on the packet of affidavits provided by the AMTA while witnesses build their acting chops and develop their characters from the materials.. In this case the plaintiffs have two alternative theories they can base their arguments on: negligent parental supervision and intentional shooting.
 
“The competitions are fierce, but there is a camaraderie among all the [competing] students,” says Melanie Schulman, the founding president of the FDU mock trial team and a senior majoring in political science. “We are all here to learn, improve and further our interest in law and the American Mock Trial Association really brings out the best in those interested in law or even acting for that matter.”
 
Now in its second year, the FDU mock trial team improved with practice at the Jersey Shore tournament. “Last year, we competed at the competition and did not win a single trial. However, this year we beat Marymount Manhattan College as the plaintiffs side!” says Schulman. The team also left the competition with the Spirit Award, which goes to the team that demonstrates the most professionalism and courtesy.
 
 
mock trialPhoto: The trophies the FDU mock trial team brought home from the Jersey Shore “Hawk” Invitational Tournament on December 6 and 7. In only its second year of existence, the FDU team won the Spirit Award, an award that goes to the team that demonstrates the most professionalism and courtesy and two students also won individual awards. Jessica Marshall, the incoming club president won a top attorney nod while Brittany Jones won a top witness award. (Photo courtesy of Melanie Schulman) 
 
 
The team has its roots in the "Introduction to Law" class taught by adjunct professor Madelyn Ferrans in the spring of 2012. “I obtained a case from the AMTA and we tried it in the classroom. The kids loved it,” she says. After that, a few of the students started the mock trial club, for which Ferrans serves as the coach/faculty advisor.  
 
The nascent team competed in their first tournament — the New Haven Regional at Yale University — in February 2014. “We didn’t advance in the tournament, but we held our own in the competition. It built up our confidence,” says Ferrans.
 
The team had so much fun competing in the Yale tourney, that Ferrans and her student Schulman, developed a mock trial course, a three-credit political science class which Ferrans taught for the first time this fall. Schulman was the driving force behind getting the team recognized and the class approved and on the books. The class covers the basics of trial work and gives students a view into a career in law as well as giving the mock trial team members academic credit for their work.
 
“I can teach a class about torts, but it’s so much better when students can actually prepare a tort case,” says Ferrans. “Mock trial boosts presentation and argument skills. Several of my students have gone onto law school now and they all say their experience with mock trial was very helpful.” 
 
Schulman agrees. “This class has helped us and the team in tremendous ways. We learned litigation skills, objections and courtroom etiquette among other things. Without this class and without Professor Ferrans, I do not believe the team would have made it nearly as far this year. Ferrans has been an amazing help throughout this entire process and has been truly inspiring for the team.”
 
The mock trial team will compete again at the New Haven Regional tournament in February 2015. For information about the mock trial team, contact Ferrans at ferrans@fdu.edu.