John Jay College’s Mock Trial Association Takes on Brooklyn College

John Jay College’s Mock Trial Association Takes on Brooklyn College

John Jay College’s Mock Trial Association Takes on Brooklyn College

For months, members of John Jay’s Mock Trial Association have come together to strategize, practice, and refine their courtroom skills. All that hard work was put to good use on March 25 and 28 when the team took on Brooklyn College at the first-ever mock trial competition between the two schools. During the competition, each school had a chance to play the role of lawyers and witnesses on both the plaintiff and defense team.

John Jay’s Samira Taj delivers the opening statement on behalf of the plaintiff
John Jay’s Samira Taj delivers the opening statement on behalf of the plaintiff

The students had participated in several of these mock trials before, but solely against other John Jay students on campus. When the club’s executive board was elected in May 2018, they expanded the competition to include other CUNY institutions. “We noticed that only a select few of CUNY colleges were competing in American Mock Trial Association tournaments, the primary collegiate level mock trial tournament in the country. That lack of mock trial programming was a widespread CUNY issue,” said Musarrat “Mus” Lamia ’21, president of the Mock Trial Association. “So, we contacted numerous CUNY Colleges and their law-related clubs to recruit interested student organizations to participate in our tournament. As the College that breeds advocates for justice, we know how valuable mock trial programming is. It teaches trial advocacy skills, increases critical thinking, public skills, and overall knowledge of the legal system in the U.S.” 

“As the college that breeds advocates for justice, we know how valuable mock trial programming is. It teaches trial advocacy skills, increases critical thinking, public skills, and overall knowledge of the legal system in the U.S. Musarrat “Mus” Lamia ’21

Jim Petzke, the club advisor and John Jay English Professor, spoke of how proud he was of the team’s effort to include other CUNY schools. “This group of students were the ones that said let’s go up against another CUNY school and take this CUNY-wide. This is an amazing opportunity for them to share with other schools, and to grow and shine as a team,” said Petzke. “They’re a fabulous group. They really have their act together.”

Yisarela Rodriguez goes over strategies with Laziza Sobirova
Yisraela Rodriguez goes over strategies with Laziza Sobirova

Yisraela Rodriguez, a student at CUNY School of Law, has been helping the team finesse their skills, showing the students how to fine-tune their opening and closing statements and polish their cross-examination skills. “I’m really excited because they have been practicing for two semesters. We’ve had three scrimmages, and with each one they just get better and better,” said Rodriguez. “The most thrilling aspect of this competition is that they’re blind to what the other team is going to say and what their strategies are going to be. Really, it’s the first time they’re going to have their feet to the fire.”

Professor Jim Petzke stands proudly with the team
Professor Jim Petzke stands proudly with the team

The case being tried during the competition was Stucky v. Conlee, Parsell and Nita City. “Although the names have been changed, it’s based on a real case,” explained Petzke. “Stucky, a state trooper, was off-duty and not in uniform when he and his girlfriend were pulled over by officers Conlee and Parsell. Stucky believed he was pulled over solely because he was ‘driving while black’. It’s a real human drama and given the current environment we’re living in, it’s also timely.”

Thomas Ridges
Thomas Ridges

“Every day isn’t going to be sunshine. There will be rainy days, but so long as they show up and continue to put in the work, they’ll succeed.”— Thomas Ridges ’95, Special Counsel to the District Attorney of Richmond County

Presiding as judge on the first evening of competition was Special Counsel to the District Attorney of Richmond County (Staten Island) Thomas Ridges ’95. Ridges, a John Jay alumnus, hoped his presence would inspire greater confidence in the students. “I sat where they’re sitting, and now, I’m sitting where they hope to be,” said Ridges. “So many times you speak to these kids and you talk to them about the future and what’s out there. It’s nice for them to hear from someone who actually sat where they’re at. It feels good to say to them, ‘I’m one of you’ and ‘you can achieve so much.’ And I want them to believe it because it’s true.” He added, “I hope these students continue to pursue their dreams and stay committed to the work. Every day isn’t going to be sunshine. There will be rainy days, but so long as they show up and continue to put in the work, they’ll succeed.”

Lawyers approach the bench to review evidence in the case
Lawyers approach the bench to review evidence in the case

“Through this mock trial experience you become better at public speaking, critical thinking, reading, and more importantly, you learn the value of teamwork and how transformative it is.” —Bianca Hayles ’20

The members of the Mock Trial Association have a deep desire to pursue justice-focused careers, whether it’s working as a lawyer, working with youth in the juvenile justice system, or to work as advocates for social justice on behalf of underrepresented populations. We interviewed some of the students before the event to learn more about their career aspirations, what they have learned throughout the team experience, and what justice means to them.

Bianca Hayles

Bianca Hayles ’20, secretary of the Mock Trial Association

What have you learned from your experience being on the team?
The Mock Trial Association has sparked my interest and brought joy to me as an aspiring advocate. This experience has allowed me to become familiar with all the skills you need to be a great lawyer. I want to become a lawyer and open a non-profit that will focus on helping young people in the juvenile justice system. Through this mock trial experience, you become better at public speaking, critical thinking and reading, and more importantly, you learn the value of teamwork and how transformative it is. Every member of this association embodies team effort.

What does justice mean to you?
Justice to me means being restorative. Changing the mentality of punishment to healing, and focusing on desired outcomes such as repairing the harm and rebuilding the relationships in communities.

Mariya Budiyanskaya

Mariya Budiyanskaya ’20

What have you learned from your experience being on the team?
I have learned to be confident when speaking in front of people. I used to have a little stage fright, but through mock trial I have been able to practice giving speeches and presenting a case. It’s taught me about how trials work.

What’s your career goal?
I’d like to become a criminal defense attorney. Being part of the Mock Trial Association has allowed me to prepare for what trial lawyers do and has taught me how to connect with a witness.

Sarai Flores

Sarai Flores ’20

What’s your career goal?
Being a part of the Mock Trial team and a student here at John Jay has helped me discover and see what career is best suited for me. And while I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do exactly, I’ve narrowed it down to an immigration lawyer, detective, or police officer.

What does justice mean to you?
Justice for me means everyone’s voice is heard, especially when an injustice occurs. People should be treated equally, fairly, and with respect, no matter their religion, race or gender.

Daniel Khan

Daniel Khan ’20

What have you learned from your experience being on the team?
This mock trial experience is a great opportunity for learning and growth. Going up against other colleges is really exciting and invigorating. We have to think fast. Not only does it mean that we have different chances for competition going forward, but it also lets us network, and make connections with other students who are interested in law careers.

Silvia Pérez

Silvia Pérez ’21, treasurer of the Mock Trial Association

What’s been your favorite part of being on the team?
My favorite part is seeing my teammates understand things they may have not understood before, and using what we’ve learned and applying that new knowledge during our practices and competitions. It’s all about improvement, so it’s great to see that progression.

What’s your career goal?
My goal is to help others. I’m in the process of getting certified in legal translation and interpretation in Spanish. Arriving in a new country and not being familiar with the language can be scary. I would like to help those people that don’t speak English feel at ease. I’d like to help make sure they understand what is being said to them.