NEWTON, NJ—On Tuesday, March 28, Newton’s Board of Education held their regular bi-monthly meeting, but their meeting was anything but regular.

On the agenda were two presentations that took place in the Newton High School Library; Enthusiastic Readers Recognition and Newton High School’s Mock Trial Team.

Along with the Newton board, which included President Stella Dunn, Vice President Jessica Egner, Business Administrator Donna Snyder, and Superintendent Dr. Ken Greene, parents, teachers and families of those being recognized, filled the audience.

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“We have the pleasure tonight of hosting and recognizing the Newton High School Mock Trial team, who have achieved something that no group has done in this school’s history," Greene said “and that is competing in the county championships. They did an outstanding job and had an amazing season.”

The team, which was comprised of 10 students- six witnesses and four attorneys, gave the board and the public a brief overview of exactly what they had to do throughout their season as well as what being on the team meant to them.

The six team members who spoke at the meeting were:

  • Payton Collander
  • Michael Burke
  • Carter Boyd
  • Lisa Qarmout
  • Sarah Blake
  • Sean Tracy

Mock trial is “an annual competition that allows high school students from all across the nation to come together annually to practice law by participating in a simulated trial,” explained Collander.

The season, which begins in October, starts with an introduction to the case.  They then divide the jobs and positions on the teams between plaintiff and defense. This was the first year that Newton’s team held auditions.

Burke, a senior, completed his second year on the team, this year as an attorney on the defense side.

“As an attorney, my co-counsel and I had to look through all the facts and evidence of the case and then figure out a strategy to prove that the defendant was not liable of defamation,” Burke said. “We had to prepare openings, closings, directs and crosses for every single witness that we had and all of these would undergo countless revisions before the trial.”

Boyd also a senior, experienced his first year on Mock Trial as the co-defendant in the case.

“I joined Mock Trial because I’m very loud, outgoing and a little argumentative, so this was the perfect activity for me,” said Boyd. “But I do want to be a defense attorney when I get older and so I chose to be the witness so I could get into the heads of the people I will be defending…without actually having to be on trial.”

Those on the team that were the witnesses had to memorize countless lines and interpret a two page document known as an affidavit, so that when they were being interrogated by an adversary, they could respond to how they thought their “character” as Boyd put it, would respond.

Qarmout, a senior, has been on the Mock Trial team for two years now. While Mock trial deals mostly in the law surrounding the case, Qarmout pointed out how the members must view the problem in the case from both sides in order to defend the argument at hand.

“Even when you don’t necessarily believe it is right, you learn how to think critically and be flexible," Qarmout said. "Mock Trial demands that you learn how to use evidence to justify your case and that skill is important for effective writing. Presenting and winning a case requires good public speaking, which is a skill that builds confidence.”

Sarah Blake, who has been on the team for the past three years, experienced the side of a witness twice and an attorney once.  Blake explained how the team had three important people who helped them throughout their season.

“Our team would not have gone to the lengths and heights that we have gone without the help of Mrs. DaSilva, Mrs. Coffey and our attorney coach Mr. Lundquist," Blake said. "Since they are both history teachers they offered a unique insight to the ins and outs of the cases. It was great to have our attorney coach come in and help us out with the legal jargon and such as well.”

Last to speak was Sean Tracy, who has been on Mock Trial for the past two years. Last year he was the defense attorney, but this year he was in the role of the co-defendant in the case.

“The 2016-2017 Mock Trial season was extremely successful for our team,” Tracy said. “It is only the third time that a Newton Mock Trial team had reached the county semi-final round.

This year the plaintiff team went against the reigning champions, High Point, while the defense went against Kittatinny in the first round. Once the plaintiff team beat Wallkill they moved into the finals to once again compete against High point.

The finals competition took place in Newton old County Court House instead of the new one, which according to Tracy was “very intimidating to us because we were used to the court rooms in the new courthouse.”

After a 40 minute discussion to determine the winners in the finals, High Point took the win against Newton.

“We didn’t just learn about law during Mock trial. We learned how to be better writers and all became better orators, and we really became close friends along the way,” Burke said.

Collander ended the presentation by giving the board and the public a little insight as to why the students do Mock Trial.

“Being an attorney, let alone participating in Mock Trial itself, was single-handedly the best decision and a highlight in my high school career.”