Posted Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

Hundreds of hours of study and practice paid off for ten West Morris Mendham High School students who brought home the state Mock Trial championship in late March, the school’s fifth win in the last nine years.

Mock Trial championship winning students pose with Freeholders Mastrangelo and Cabana in the historic Morris County Courthouse

The students won five rounds of competition within Morris County, and then five more rounds at the state level to clinch the championship. Nationals in Reno, Nev., are next.

“This is a remarkable accomplishment, and the students and their coach are to be commended,” said Morris County Freeholder Director Doug Cabana, who presented the students with a county resolution and certificates at today’s Law Day event in Morristown. “All of the residents of Morris County are very proud of these young people,” added Cabana.

“They have a terrific teacher coach in Eric Heditsch and an outstanding lawyer in coach William Connelly,” said Nancy Bangiola, executive director of Morris County Bar Association.

The mock trial competition is a statewide event sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and organized in coordination with all of the local County Bar Associations, including the Morris County Bar Association. The contest seeks to increase comprehension of the American system of justice, demystify the law and help students develop and improve basic life and leadership skills.

Participating in the competition for West Morris Mendham High School were prosecution team “attorneys” Katia McGreal, a senior, and Patrick Riss, a junior; and witnesses Elizabeth Moran, Nadia Jahnecke and Chelsea Corridore, who are all seniors.

Participating on the defense team are “attorneys” Andy Sager and Seth Gnesin, both seniors; and witnesses Olivia Vizzini and Xavier Palmer, both seniors, and Joe Gulino, a junior.

This year, the competition involved a criminal case featuring an opioid issue and liability crime which is laid out in a 60-70 page casebook. Teams are randomly assigned which side they will argue during competitions.

“What I love about it is that students have to master both sides of the case. Every time we uncover a new fact, they always have to cover the other side: For every argument they are going to voice in court, there is always another side of it,” Heditsch said. Being able to think on their feet is a key skill.

“In a court room almost anything can happen. The other side can launch question at you that you don’t expect or the judge can make a ruling on an objection that you don’t anticipate. You have to be incredibly prepared for every eventuality. Like real court. I don’t know if you could do anything that can prepare you for a real trial except this.”

Heditsch and Connelly’s West Morris Mendham team won the national competition last year, but every attorney graduated. Each of the four attorneys who competed this year were new in the role.

“The kids really went above and beyond my expectations this year,” Heditsch said.