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No objection: Mahwah High School students are Bergen mock trial champs again

Photo Credit: HERE AND TOP: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: MAHWAH HS
Photo Credit: HERE AND TOP: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

SHOUT OUT: A distraught friend testifies that her mission is to “bring justice” to the death of a victim of a vehicular homicide, while a police sergeant who discovered the ghastly crash involving two drunken college students tries to identify who was driving, in a case presented during the 32 nd installment of the Vincent J Apruzzese Mock Court at the Bergen County Courthouse.

In the end, the victors in the case were the Thunderbirds from Mahwah High School — the group’s fourth county title in six years.

Dozens of public and parochial school mock trial teams from Bergen County vied for a spot in tomorrow’s regional semi-finals.

And while the characters and situations of their “trial” were scripted, the holes that the high-schoolers poked in each others’ arguments were anything but – attesting to the time and effort each devoted.

Bergen CHAMPS (Courtesy MAHWAH HS)

Nicole McDonough, one of Bergen County’s two mock trial coordinators, knows what it takes to win: She’s a former Morris County champion who graduated law school in 2008.

This year, “30 schools were involved in Bergen County alone,” many of who will make state – or even national – appearances, she said.

One of the most recent to bask in the national spotlight is Torah Academy, led by Coach Yigal Marcus.

Now in his 20 th year, Marcus says “hard work and a culture of excellence” make for the school’s winning history, including 15 hours his students log weekly preparing for the tournament.

All of them know “exactly what they are signing up for,” he said, knowing that it prepares them for the “careers in law many pursue in the future.”

Students began preparing their cases in October for the trials held in January at the county courthouse. Some said they do it purely for fun, others for the careers they hope to have – some in law, others elsewhere.

And they weren’t allowed to use iPads, laptops, cell phones or any electronic or telecommunication devices while competing.

Superior Court Judge Patrick Monahan, a 42-year veteran of the bench presiding over his first mock trial, said the vehicular homicide case was extremely complicated – one that first-year law students “won’t even see.”

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor David Calviello agreed.

A former mock court county champion himself, Calviello, said the practice “gave me far more confidence than my colleagues.”

After finishing law school, he immediately began coaching his school’s team, calling himself one of the program’s biggest fans.

Last night, Mahwah’s students topped their equally able counterparts from Indian Hills High School on its quest to become one of New Jersey’s final 21.

The defense team was made up of Ariel Murphy, Erica Nagotko. Their witnesses: Brianna Spencer, Eric Kim and Gabby Chishinsky.

The prosecutors were: Emily Drake and Madison Tariff. Witnesses: Alexandra Bueno, Melanie Olventhal,and Emma Corless.

The Mahwah team had to win three qualifying rounds, and get through a quarterfinal and semifinal round to be crowned county champs. It’s familiar territory, though: The Thunderbirds won county titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012 and lost to Bergen Catholic in the finals in 2010.

Now it’s on to the regionals — and, then, they hope, the state finals at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Then, who knows?

STORY: Brian Lang

PHOTOS HERE AND TOP: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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