The Huntington High School mock trial team won its opening courtroom battle of the season, toppling visiting Half Hollow Hills East in a close match on Wednesday afternoon.
Room 201 was converted into a courtroom for the trial, which played out before a crowd of about two dozen. The teams made their arguments before a judge, who held them to strict standards of courtroom procedure.
High school teams across the state have been squaring off against each other this week. Sponsored by the New York State Bar Association, the 2017 mock trial competition is being waged over the case of “Robin Berkman v. County of Dover.”
“In this civil case, a convenience store was robbed and the store clerk was shot,” according to the NYSBA website. “Witnesses identified the suspect by only the name ‘Robin.’ The detective who investigated the crime focused on Robin Berkman as the prime suspect. Robin was eventually arrested and charged with the robbery and murder of the store clerk. After a trial by jury, Robin was found guilty and sent to state prison. Robin, who always denied committing the crime, contacted the Actual Innocence Association while in prison. The AIA reviewed the case and, convinced that Robin was innocent, asked the district attorney to reopen the case. The DA’s office did so and found that another person who was confined to another state prison had confessed to committing the robbery and murder. Robin was exonerated and released from prison. Robin subsequently filed a lawsuit for malicious prosecution against the county and its agents, stating that Detective Smith, who had originally investigated the robbery/murder, did not pursue any other suspects and focused solely on Robin as the perpetrator of the crime. Robin is seeking monetary damages for the malicious prosecution.”
The first round trial saw Huntington representing the plaintiff, Ms. Berkman in her lawsuit against the defendant, the County of Dover, which was represented by the Half Hollow Hills East team.
Seniors Abigail Bellistri and Dan Browne along with team captain and talented junior Max Robins took charge of the courtroom as they showcased their impressive legal and communication skills as Huntington’s attorneys.
In a stunning cross examination of a defense witness, Ms. Bellistri proved her knowledge of the law and commanded the courtroom’s attention throughout her presentation. Mr. Robins’ closing statement highlighted his passion for the judicial system and his ability to convince everyone that his client was due damages. Mr. Browne’s direct exam proved his extensive knowledge of the law and his ability to challenge every objection with professional knowledge far beyond his years.
Huntington freshmen Claudia Villatoro and Riley Tucker and junior Melissa Lopez all took the stand as witnesses, playing their roles to near perfection and displaying an ability to “think fast” when seemingly backed into a corner. The trio was able to respond to difficult and sometimes confusing questions while under cross examination.
Huntington High School graduates and practicing attorneys Xavier Palacios and Jack Piana, serve as the legal advisors for their alma mater’s mock trial team. Business teacher Suzie Biagi is the faculty advisor to the group.
Legal teams from the two schools made their arguments before lawyer Janice Whelan Shea, who served as the judge for the first round of this year’s mock trial competition. “Both schools did an amazing job presenting their cases,” Mrs. Biagi said.
Huntington is already preparing for its second round match at Rocky Point next Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.