AKRON -- The Hudson High School Mock Trial team had an election-related scenario to tackle in order to earn a trip to district competition.
"Discourse is the remedy for government corruption," said Attorney Tyler Richey in his defense opening statement for CAT News Organization, at the Summit County Court of Common Pleas, the Honorable Alison McCarty presiding. Richey, with co-counsel Sean Scarnecchia, defended the news outlet against a defamation lawsuit brought by Governor Pat Justice, who alleged that CAT's dissemination of false statements caused her gubernatorial re-election loss.
Countering CAT were plaintiff's attorneys George Griffiths and Nick Hakes, who opened with Griffiths stating "(T)here is no constitutional value in false statements," in reference to CAT's inaccurate tweets and story that Governor Justice had murdered school Principal I.M Veritas. In truth, Veritas died of natural causes. The tweets, including "#MatHatPatKillsVeritas," went viral with over 70,000 retweets, and Governor Justice soon saw her lead plummet in the polls. On election day, the incumbent governor lost her re-election bid, which plaintiff's expert witness Dr. Teresa Song opined was caused by the defamatory story.
Six-year HMT coach Sarah Hulburt played the role of Governor Justice.
"I play the attorney role in most practices, but this was the first time I played a witness. One of the students couldn't make it, so I was pinch-hitter. It was so fun." Hulburt was cross-examined by Tyler Richey, who began his senior year at Hudson as a 15-year old.
"Tyler will graduate Hudson at 16, and wants to be a prosecutor by age 22," said Hulburt.
His co-counsel, freshman Sean Scarnecchia, started taking math classes at the high school when he was a middle schooler.
"I've always wanted to coach a child-genius duo of lawyers at HMT," said Hulburt. "They are so quick to learn. It's amazing."
Joining the child-genius duo were teammates Erin Williams and Caitlin Gentry, both juniors. Williams played a wry, occasionally comical, CAT news executive while Gentry performed an impassioned rendition of the CAT news high school intern who broke the story that later proved to be false.
"Erin and Caitlin were really entertaining witnesses," said Hulburt. "Caitlin should consider a career in acting, she was that good."
Hakes, co-captain of HMT, cross-examined Gentry, and closed out the trial with a sound closing argument.
"Nick has the highest ranked GPA of the junior class, so everything he does, he does well. That includes law," said Hulburt.
Judge McCarty, a 17-year Ohio jurist and longtime chair of the Akron Bar Association Mock Trial Committee, emeritus, gave tips to the students in preparation for the district tournament.
"The fact pattern of this case is fun, so try to express that feeling when performing in the courtroom," said McCarty. "The judges like to be entertained."
The district tournament will be Jan. 20 at the Summit County Courthouse. Morning trials begin at 9 a.m.
Submitted by coach Sarah Hulburt.