NJCU Mock Trial Team Competes for the First Time

NJCU Mock Trial Team Competes for the First Time

The new NJCU Mock Trial Team entered its first regional championship and brought home the American Mock Trial Association’s Spirit Award following the Princeton Regional Championship held February 24 – 25 at Princeton University.

“Many first-year teams never make it to regionals – the work is too overwhelming,” said Dr. Esther Nir, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and coach to the nine students on the team. “But through the sheer will of our students, our team not only made it to regionals but actually won two ballots [voting scores] from the judges!”

In the first round of the competition, The NJCU team beat Stockton University, then later lost a round against Princeton University and another one to Wellesley College. “We may have lost but our students held their own,” said Nir. “They did really, really well.” Other competitors at the championship included teams from Yale University and The College of Saint Rose. 

Team members were also delighted to be voted by the other teams as recipients of the AMTA Spirit Award, which recognizes the team that “best exemplifies the ideals of civility, justice, and fair play,” according to Nir.

The mock team members, who are all sophomores, are NJCU students Rameen Shah, Victoria Wolf, Kyle Izyayev, Solomone Fainu, Uzma Shaikh, Jessica Oudhnarine, Valerie Gonzalez, Aileen Zelaya, and Jasmine Shaw.

Founded in 1985 by Dean Richard Calkins, of Drake Law School, AMTA serves as the governing body for intercollegiate mock trial competition.

“Through engaging in trial simulations in competition with teams from other institutions, students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, as well as a knowledge of legal practices and procedures,” according to the association website. Each season, AMTA hosts 25 regional tournaments, eight opening round championship tournaments, and a national championship. The top teams from each regional tournament advance and compete in another round of competition that is held in March.  

About 600 teams from more than 350 universities and colleges compete in these tournaments and more than 3,500 undergraduate students take part each year, according to the AMTA.

During the competition, the students take on the roles of prosecutor, defense attorney, and witnesses as they carry out a mock trial of a case that is created and assigned by the AMTA. This year, the competitors were given a hypothetical attempted murder case. Professional lawyers serve as judges throughout the trial simulations.

“What’s really amazing about our team is that none of the students were pre-law majors,” Nir said. Six of the NJCU team members – Shaikh, Oudhnarine, Zelaya, Gonzalez, Fainu, and Izyayev – are business majors. Shaw is majoring in photography, Shah is a biology major, and Wolf majors in National Security Studies. “And they had never done public speaking before,” Nir added.

Nir recruited the mock trial team members when they were students enrolled in a fall 2017 honors class she taught called “Trial Advocacy and the American Legal System”. “We were doing a lot of trial simulations in that class and they liked it,” Nir said. The team came together in December but they still had a very limited time to prepare for the regional competition.

At one point, the team was devoting a minimum of 20-25 hours per week toward practicing for the regional championship. “These are highly ambitious students with the most incredible work ethic,” Nir said. “They were cramming on the Rules of Evidence until the morning of the event.”

Nir said she plans to assemble another mock trial team in the next academic year that will be open to all NJCU students.