Seton Hall’s Mock Trial Team has qualified for the first time to compete in the National Championship Tournament held at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN from April 16 to April 18.
The 48 college teams are selected out of an estimated 850 colleges with Mock Trial teams, junior mock trial team member Jessica Noto said.
“To be honest, I don’t think the fact that we qualified for the national championship tournament has sunk in yet. It has been quite the ride,” mock trial captain Christopher Fernandez said. “When we clinched a bid to nationals, it was euphoric, but a few hours later it wore off and we went straight back to work.”
Mock trial is a team-based competition where two different universities compete using case material provided by the American Mock Trial Association, Fernandez said. One school represents the prosecution or plaintiff, and the other school represents the defense.
“Our season begins in September and ends in late April. We literally work on this case all year and refine our presentation meticulously,” Fernandez said.
He continued to explain how no one believed the Seton Hall team could make it out of their regional level or their opening round championship.
“It it is mind boggling that a national caliber team can be built by a group of Seton Hall students and zero administrative guidance,” Fernandez said.
This year the team was given a criminal murder case, Fernandez said, where they prosecuted and defended Jackie Owens, one of the founding partners of Trifecta Entertainment, a movie studio. It was alleged, that along with another partner Casey Maxwell, Jackie killed the third partner Jacob Bennett in order to gain money to pay off gambling debts.
Fernandez said next year the team will receive a civil case because they alternate yearly.
“During the course of this year’s season, which began in September, Seton Hall Mock Trial has profoundly fielded two teams to various competitions,” Noto said.
These competitions include a regional tournament hosted by St. John’s University in Queens, NY and the Opening Round Championship Site hosted by Pace Law School in White Plains, NY.
Noto said during these competitions the Seton Hall team has gone head-to-head, and won, against some of the top 25 teams in the nation including Columbia University, Georgetown University, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania.
“As individual competitors, we have collected six best attorney awards and seven best witness awards throughout the season,” Noto said.
The members on the team that will be competing in nationals are Christopher Fernandez (junior/captain/attorney), Jessica Noto (junior/club president/attorney), Kendall Szulewski-Francis (freshman/attorney), Carrie Ayn Smith (junior/witness), Michael LaValle (junior/club vice president/witness), Gesina Phillips (junior/club secretary/witness) and Candice Woods (sophomore/professional timekeeper). Advisor Jacqueline Cetera and Seton Hall Law student coach John Rancourt will also be accompanying the team to Memphis.
“Students will gain public speaking experience, for one, and will gain analytical skills as the students attempt to create a case strategy to present to judges,” Fernandez said. “More importantly, students gain legal knowledge that would be otherwise unattainable at Seton Hall.”
Carolyn Maso can be reached at email@example.com.