Gateway team fares well in mock trial competition
A jury box filled with lawyers heard the pleas of Gateway's high school student-lawyers last weekend as the 30th annual Pennsylvania Bar Association Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition took place in Harrisburg.
Students presented both sides to a hypothetical case concerning the responsibility of an urban renewal developer whose crane collapsed and killed two people.
A team of lawyers hear the case and come to a verdict, which determines how far the teams advance.
The students, who play the parts of lawyers, witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants, are judged based on how well they prepared their case, the presentation of their arguments and their ability to follow courtroom rules.
The Gateway Mock Trial team consisted of eight students: Jordan Doman, Stephen Gross, Kaelin Harmon, Kristen Ku, Elaine McDaniel, Eden Safar, Rohan D. Shah and Kaylee Steimer.
This team advanced further in the competition than any team since 2007, said their coach, Marc Gigliotti, a science teacher at Gateway High School.
“When you get that far, it really comes down to very, very minute differences,” he said.
Although the team didn't advance to the national competition in Indianapolis, Gigliotti said that Gateway was in the top 12 teams out of 308 that competed.
“I think that the success here was a function of the down-to-earth nature of the kids, their incredible intelligence and their motivation,” Gigliotti said.
Many of the students were returning to the competition and were pleased with how they performed.
“We've been doing it for a couple years but we've never advanced this far,” said McDaniel, 16. “It was a learning experience.”
One of the most important things for Doman, 17, who played the role of both lawyer and witness for the team, was the presentation of the arguments.
“Your mannerisms and what you say really matter,” she said.
While preparation and motivation helped to set the team apart, there are always curve balls in the courtroom that are difficult to anticipate, said Gross, 17, who served as a team lawyer.
“You never know what to expect from the other team,” he said.
“You just kind of have to adjust to the moment,” said McDaniel, who also served as a lawyer.
Gross, McDaniel and Doman are all considering law school after college graduation.
“It's just an exciting thing to do, it's competitive,” Gross said.
For the second constecutive year, Katherine Leech Vollen, 32, a 1999 Gateway graduate and an associate attorney at Raphael, Ramsden and Behers, provided guidance and helped students develop a strong case.
“We couldn't have gone this far without her help and without her guidance,” Gigliotti said.
Vollen said she helped them learn effective direct testimony, cross-examination techniques, introducing exhibits as evidence, how to respond to objections, courtroom procedure and decorum and oral advocacy skills.
Vollen is confident the students learned skills that will come in handy later in life.
“I'm proud of the work they do,” she said. “Whatever they decide to do … they're all going to be successful individuals.”
Gigliotti has the same certainty.
“Just being involved with them is a real honor and a real privilege,” he said. “You know they're going to make it very far in life.”
He is also hopeful for next year's team, which will have several returning members.
“We know that we're capable of doing really, really well,” he said.
“We're going to go for the whole thing next year.”
Matthew DeFusco is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org.