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F-M Legal Hornets prevail, win Regional and County 2018
Mock Trial Championship – on to Albany!

Onondaga County Bar Association Bar Reporter
April 2018, Volume 63, Number 4

The teenaged attorneys from Fayetteville-Manlius High School argued both sides of the fictitious disorderly conduct case, The People v. Carson Conners, April 21st at the 2018 Mock Trial Region 2 Championship and brought home the win.

After four grueling rounds at the Southern Tier’s U.S. District Courthouse in Binghamton, the Legal Hornets appeared with the Gilbertsville-Mount Upton High School team before Judge Thomas J. McAvoy.

“After a very long and challenging match, it was announce that we had won both the verdict and the round,” said F-M Social Studies teacher and Mock Trial Coach Joseph Worm.

The team locally prevailed on April 12th, over its worthy competitor in the Cazenovia Lakers when the Hornets clinched the Onondaga County 2018 Mock Trial Championship, setting the stage for the Binghamton victory.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles found for F-M’s defense that day in his courtroom high above Syracuse in the James M. Hanley Federal Building. The close match made for exciting viewing as only two points separated the Hornets from Cazenovia‘s solid prosecution.

From the bench, Judge Peebles expressed his delight with both schools, which for more than two hours interrogated and cross-examined witnesses and experts, brought objections, and argued for their clients.

“This has been thoroughly enjoyable,” said Peebles. “You did better than many of the lawyers who appear before me.”

Shortly after announcing his decision, in a warm gesture of good sportsmanship, the two teams turned to their opponents to extend a hand in congratulations. Judge Peebles invited both teams to his bench to capture a keepsake photo and his courtroom filled with a happy buzz.

This year’s case centered around the curious arrest of highschooler Carson Conners who may, or may not, have been too rowdy in a Bigtown High School corridor. In saying hello to a classmate did Conners push a fellow student or did a teacher misread adolescent enthusiasm?

And what of the extenuating circumstances? Arrests lead to automatic suspensions at Bigtown High. Conners, a lowperforming student, was absent from school serving a five-day suspension during a scheduled standardized testing period. Did the teacher in the matter have an incentive to see Conners not take the test? After all, some Bigtown teachers feel such testing is really a measure of teacher performance.

The questions rising from the case’s fact sequence kept both prosecution and defense counsel on their toes during the energetic county championship. And non-attorney teammates brought to life the case’s cast of characters – a vice principal, an English teacher, a School Resource Officer, and more, bolstering their respective sides with convincing testimony.

“Although the crime was not that compelling, the story around it was great,” Worm said. “What my team seemed to easily reign in on this year was the theory of how to frame and argue the fact pattern from each side.”

In the six-week lead up to the championship trial, a field of 15 teams was winnowed to two. Each week, sides switched to assure teams argued both defense and prosecution. F-M won handily each round, despite which side they portrayed.

Cazenovia student attorney Megan Schwartz thought the facts of the case lent themselves to the defense. Her co-counsel Zane Anthony, 16, concurred, “We were fighting for an argument that shouldn’t have been made.”

According to Worm, the legal Hornets stung their rivals because of the hours put in practice to get their eyes off their notes, or to not have any at all, and trained toward the witness stand, particularly on cross-examination.

“Witnesses prepared for every possible line of questioning they could face,” he said. “Attorneys worked on strategies to control witnesses and strike unresponsive answers.”

For F-M, the hours studying points of law and their repetitious practice proved beyond a doubt that such hard work reaped the kind of rewards these students will carry into the future – speaking in public, boosting critical thinking, and thinking on one’s feet.

“My team taught me the importance of team chemistry this year,” Worm said. “More than any other year previously, they have made an effort to spend time together outside of Mock Trial and bond. They trust each other and know how to do their part and to not worry about each other.”

Such team spirit was evident from the beginning said F-M’s legal advisor Danielle M. Fogel, a partner at Sugarman Law Firm.

“The team took the feedback from the judges we received last year and this year and moved forward incorporating these suggestions to ensure we put forth the best case and witnesses,” she said.

“Each year, I am amazed by these kids and Mr. Worm. The time and energy they put in the case is impressive.”

F-M student-attorney David Haungs, a junior, expressed what it felt like to argue the case in front of a federal judge in a courtroom in which some longtime legal professionals have never set foot.

“There’s nothing better,” he said.

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