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Mainland Regional High School Wins State Mock Trial Title



Mainland Regional High School of Atlantic County has captured the coveted state title in the New Jersey State Bar Foundation's 2008-2009 Vincent J. Apruzzese High School Mock Trial Competition.   

In an exciting finish to the months-long series of spirited contests that ended with the student courtroom version of March Madness, the winning team edged out West Morris Mendham High School of Morris County at the New Jersey Law Center on March 31.

 Teacher-coach Christopher Fernandez was jubilant and proud, as he watched his team members hug each other in celebration.  "But my initial reaction was relief," he laughed. "Waiting for the verdict is always the hardest part.  Whatever the verdict, they did a great job. I'm very proud of them."

The students tried a civil case in which the American Association of Recording Companies alleged that teenager Dillon Matthews illegally downloaded and distributed copies of popular songs to friends, effectively stealing revenue from record companies.  Dillon maintained that a computer virus leading to identify theft was to blame.  All names and circumstances were fictitious.

Presiding over the final round in the state competition were the Hon. Marilyn C. Clark, presiding judge, Criminal Division, Passaic County, and the Hon. Melvin L. Gelade, Judge of the Superior Court, Special Civil Part, Middlesex County.  Members of the mock trial team from North Brunswick High School of Middlesex County, who placed third in this year's competition, served as jurors in the finals.

Mr. Fernandez has led Mainland's mock trial teams for the past 13 years, during which they made it to the southern regionals in 1998 and again in 2007.  In between, they scored top honors in 2003. Still, it had been six long years since nabbing the state title. "The students worked incredibly hard since September," he said. "They're so capable that sometimes I forget they're still kids in high school.  I demand a lot, and they don't complain. They just get it all done with dedication, hard work and commitment."

Mainland Regional's team members are quite accomplished in fields apart from mock trial and have varied interests. David Ju, who played a defense lawyer, is co-captain of the school's academic team, a member of the National Honor Society and is involved in computers, political science and religious activities. Although he aspires to a career in engineering, he thoroughly enjoyed his second year in mock trial. "Last year I was an expert witness. As a lawyer this time I had a lot more control and power." The best part? "When you hear the judge agree with the points you've been making, it's one of the best feelings you could have."

Defense lawyer-teammate Hannah Bishop is into music and dance but found her second try at mock trial thrilling and fun. "I'm so excited about winning!," she said. "This win says a lot about all the work we put in. Everyone was new to their positions this year, so it means a lot."

Eliot Strawbridge Rollins, who played the part of expert witness Rocco, a former hacker and con man, was drawn to mock trial for two reasons. "My brother did it before I did and got me interested in it. But what I like best is the theatrics, the drama of it. I hope to be a filmmaker one day."  But the best  thing about mock trial, he says, is the closeness that develops from working as a team. "All these guys are my best friends as a result of mock trial. I know we will stay in touch forever."

The judges thought very highly of both teams.  Seeing them perform at mock trial "gives you a good feeling about young people," said Judge Gelade.  "Too often youngsters are thought to be self-absorbed. But I saw lots of enthusiasm as they worked hard just to gain life experience. It is a pleasure for me to participate in mock trial." Judge Clark concurred: "They will all be great representatives of this state in the American Mock Trial Invitational."

As first-place state champions, the Mainland Regional team, along with West Morris Mendham's second-place team and North Brunswick's third-place team, will represent New Jersey in the Fourth Annual American Mock Trial Invitational, known as AMTI.  AMTI is a national and global high school mock trial competition slated to take place May 17-19 in New Brunswick.  Hosted by the Foundation, it is cosponsored by the Foundation and the North Carolina Advocates for Justice.

The annual Vincent J. Apruzzese High school Mock Trial Competition is sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation in cooperation with New Jersey's county bar associations and is made possible by funding from the IOLTA Fund of the Bar of New Jersey.  To date, more than 79,000 students have participated.  The competition, which began in 1982, has won national awards for excellence in educational programming from the American Society of Association Executives.   For more information, please contact Sheila Boro at 732-937-7519 or

Founded in 1958, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation is the educational and philanthropic arm of the New Jersey State Bar Association.  The Bar Foundation's mission is to promote public understanding of the law through a free, comprehensive public education program.  Among its activities, the Foundation conducts seminars and conflict resolution training, publishes materials, operates a videotape loan library and speakers bureau, and coordinates elementary, middle and high school mock trial competitions.  For more information about the Foundation's programs and publications, visit us online at or call 1-800-FREE-LAW.

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