There’s nothing like a courtroom battle to get the competitive juices flowing. Students in the Huntington School District’s SEARCH program enjoyed the intellectual give and take that this year’s Trial Day provided.
Four teams of fifth grade SEARCH students assembled in rooms located in Woodhull Intermediate School’s annex after spending weeks creating direct and cross examination questions and answers, learning when to object to a question or statement from the opposing side and developing and refining opening and closing statements.
“This trial was a major part of the jurisprudence unit during which we analyzed real cases and developed an understanding of why our laws exist and how they are enforced,” said Maryann Daly, the district’s SEARCH chairperson-teacher.
Seniors Jordan Biener, Sam Prinzi and Miranda Nykolyn
were among the SEARCH alums helping out at Trial Day.
Ten current Huntington High School seniors who are all SEARCH program alums were handpicked by Mrs. Daly to serve as judges and mentors/legal advisors for the trial teams.
As the unit on jurisprudence wound down, students started to eagerly anticipate Trial Day. “It’s the culminating event of the unit and features two defense teams and two plaintiff teams presenting their cases in separate simultaneous trials,” Mrs. Daly said. “The biggest issue I have for this day is limiting the amount of family and friends who want to watch their children in a real life, very adult courtroom situation.”
This year’s hypothetical case involved model Terry Vickers, who was severely injured by a college student leaving a party allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Due to the fact that the police officer on the scene charged the student with a DWI, the plaintiff was suing the host of the party (Sandy Hearst) for negligence for violating Section 65 of the New York Alcoholic Beverages Control Law. She was requesting that her medical bills be paid, her pain and suffering be compensated and was seeking an additional $11.3 million for lost earnings potential. As to the complaint of negligence, the host of the party claimed his innocence, insisting he kept everyone and everything under control.
In recent years Mrs. Daly introduced the concept of a surprise witness for each side. Four sixth grade SEARCH students played roles that would have negatively impacted the testimonies of opposing legal team.
The two witnesses for the defense (Gabriela Ferreira and McKenna Buffa) portrayed beverage store owner Devin Clark, who testified that Mr. Hearst had purchased from her that morning only non-alcoholic beer for his party. She also stated that she had known Mr. Hearst for a long time and he was an upstanding citizen and never one to break any laws, especially those involving minors.
The plaintiff team’s surprise witnesses (played by Ella O’Heir and Leigh Hepworth) portrayed college student Jody Winters, who had attended the party and had personally witnessed Mr. Hearst offer and encourage Nicky Ivy and other minors to drink alcohol. Ms. Winters’ testimony backed up plaintiff witness Lee Potter, who also told the court that Mr. Hearst had served alcohol to his friend, Ms. Ivy causing her to become intoxicated and out of control.
“The trials lasted for over two hours, which included objections from both sides of the aisle and a request for additional time for lawyers to confer and create cross examination questions for these new and unexpected witnesses,” Mrs. Daly said.
Huntington seniors Jordan Biener, Miranda Nykolyn, Sam Prinzi, Rachel Roday, Jacob Strieb and Steve Yeh had their hands full as judges, constantly ruling on objections and motions that no one expected to happen. Mentors and legal advisors Kevin Gulizio, Theresa Moreno, Alexandra Smith and Cloe Stevens were surprised and amused by the sophistication of their young teams.
“They coached their teams in the morning rehearsal and supported them during the trial, offering quick advice and encouraging the lawyers to object when necessary and appropriate,” Mrs. Daly said. “The decisions came down to a very close vote in both courtrooms. The respective plaintiff team in both trials prevailed. However, the defense teams earned the higher number points for their performances and presentations. The seniors shared their admiration for the maturity and level of quickness these eleven year olds displayed throughout the day.”
This was Mrs. Daly’s final Trial Day after a long run as the SEARCH program’s chairperson-teacher. She is retiring from teaching at the end of the month.
“I could not have been prouder of all of my students for losing their fear, getting into their roles so convincingly, challenging themselves and for doing so well under pressure,” Mrs. Daly said. “They all said that they were nervous at first, but then got into the case. Objecting on the grounds that surprise witnesses represented a violation of the rights of disclosure is pretty impressive, especially when it is coming from the voices of these young people. Knowing the meaning of the objections was even more impressive to watch. It was a terrific day; one of the best I have witnessed since mock trials began in the SEARCH program over 30 years ago. It never gets old, only better each year.”