FREEHOLD – Colts Neck High school’s Mock Trial Team took first place in the annual Monmouth County-wide competition, narrowly beating Wall High School in the four day historic event. The team will now advance to regional competition.
Fifteen schools from Monmouth County participated in the event, which has been sponsored by the Monmouth County Bar Association since it was first offered as statewide competition by the State Bar Association decades ago. For the past seven years, Attorney Jonathan Goldstein has volunteered his services as co-chair of the event for several years, with attorney Ellizza Perkins, who was also the co-chair last year.
Among coordinators of the Monmouth County mock trials in previous years was Christine Hanlon, now President of the Monmouth County Bar Association. In expressing her pride and congratulations for Colts Neck’s win, as well as the teams from each school who participated, Hanlon said “This is such an important program for our Monmouth County High School students and I’m so pleased that we were able to host the competition this year. I would not want our students to miss out on the opportunity due to the COVID-19 health crisis. The high school teams did a wonderful job overcoming the challenges presented to them and I congratulate the winning team from Colts Neck High School. In my opinion, all of the students who participated in this event are winners as this program instills confidence in our students, hones their public speaking skills, and gives them the invaluable experience of a real-life trial setting. I thank our coordinators for the Bar Association, Jonathan Cohen and Elissa Perkins ,as well as all of the judges and teachers who donated their time to the program. It would not be the great success that it is without them.”
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Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman of the criminal division, who has also volunteered many years to sit as Judge of the final competitions, also praised the students for their excellence and extraordinary acceptance and adaption to the virtual mock trial. Although it is routine for lawyers and judges to have virtual court proceedings during the Covid crisis, Bauman noted the added stress the new procedure, and conducting the mock court with their witnesses, timekeepers, and adversaries all only visible on a screen, and separated from each other through all their practices and throughout their trials, showed extraordinary poise, maturity and intelligence from each of the high school students.
Schools participating in this year’s event included Rumson Fair Haven Regional, Colts Neck, Mater Dei Prep, Christian Brothers Academy, Saint John Vianney, Holmdel, Middletown North, The Academy of Allied Health & Science, Howell, Allentown High School, Ocean Township,. Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST), Matawan Regional, Wall High School and Red Bank Regional. In spite of the Covid limitations the number of entrants was typical of previous years, Goldstein said.
The Colts Neck team, which went 5-0 in this year’s competition now competes at the Central Regional mock trials beginning Feb. 3, Should they win three competitions there, they would then advance to the state semi-final competition.
Holly Luccarelli is the teacher coach for the Colts Neck team, and has headed the team for the last 17 years. She noted that seven of the students on this year’s team have competed at least two previous years, and four students are new to the extracurricular activity this years. Attorney James Tracy
volunteered as a visiting attorney for the past 12 years, then turned the position over to former student and mock trial participant William Visone who competed between 2007 and 2010, and later joined the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. Visone has been coaching with the team in January, with daily as well as occasional weekend meetings assisting the team in analyzing the case and understanding the legal arguments. “Our team worked collaboratively on each component,” the assistant prosecutor said, “a factor I attribute to their success. We have a close-knit group of students who form an incredible bond over a love of mock trial and desire to do well”
. Lucarelli said in the past 17 years CNHS has competed, the team won 9 county championship, competed three times in the State championship and in 2019 were the State Champs, the only Monmouth County school to ever win at the top state level.
The winning Colts Neck team included seniors Sophia Carlin, portraying an attorney, seniors Matthew Buneta, Megan Smith and Ethan Valliath as witnesses, juniors portraying attorneys are Zerrin Dulger, Cassandra Dalton and Averie Engel, sophomore Abigail Gilder, a witness, and freshmen Jeffrey Karpelson, and Robert Maravelias as witnesses with freshman Sawyer Chang as timekeeper.
Francis Gavin, the Latin teacher at Wall High School, said this is his first year as coach of the mock trial team, but Wall has been a participant for many years. One of the attorneys who volunteered to coach the team during their practice sessions this year, Joshua Carmel, is himself a graduate of Wall and participated in mock trials during his school years. “We were fortunate to have both Mr. Carmel and another attorney, James Tracy, who volunteered to help our students, and demonstrated an excitement for the mock trial program that was infectious,” Gavin said.
Gavin added he thinks the students participate because it is a rewarding competition, and “ since they are prepared, it is fun for them.” Wall students who participated this year are Sasha Bosque-Issardin a senior who took on two roles, attorney for both plaintiff and defendant, senior Lily Figlar who also took on two roles of a witness, juniors Bryan Hammond and Cameron Murphy, representing attorneys, junior and freshmen Kendal Amitie Fiona Figlar, Ilin Maxim, who all served as witnesses.
Recognizing the pandemic impacted not only the students’ ability to participate but also to meet and practice, together with the unique experience of presenting the trial via Zoom, Gavin said the benefits of the program are numerous, not only to give them an appreciation of the legal profession and its practitioners, but also to grow their own confidence, abilities, and experience to see matters with different perspectives. “The commitment of time and energy by the students is remarkable. Moreover, the pro bono service of the attorney coaches is awe inspiring. “