By Elisabeth Donovan 3L and Chris Saunders
In a way, it was a symbolic vindication for Tom Robinson, fifty-two years after his fictional trial on rape charges in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the most important novels of the 20th Century.
The setting was a mock trial held in the Moot Courtroom at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, involving students from Crawford High’s Law Academy, Friday January 20.
The facts of the case were based on To Kill a Mockingbird, with a modern-day twist. The prosecution accused the defendant, “Jamal Robinson”, of sexually assaulting and choking “Maria Lopez” after he visited her home after work to fix her computer. The charge was violating California Penal Code Section 243.4 (Sexual Battery).
Not only did the courtroom look and feel like the real thing, but Superior Court Judge Ana España presided over the trial and there was a jury of citizens recruited to hear the case.
“All I can say is that this feels pretty awesome, all of our hard work paid off,” Crawford High School student Greg Parker said exuberantly. The 10th grader had just found out that his defense team had won the mock trial competition by getting the not guilty verdict.
The event was held in conjunction with the Crawford Legal Institute & Mentorship Bond Program (CLIMB), created by TJSL professors Maurice Dyson and Bill Slomanson for the Crawford High School Legal Academy. Twenty Crawford students participated in the competition, with eight students serving as counsel for prosecution or defense and the rest of the students as witnesses, bailiffs, and event coordinators.
After working hard for six months and becoming inspired by TJSL mentors in the CLIMB program, the high school students dazzled the audience with their public speaking skills, courtroom strategies and professionalism.
The prosecution called four witnesses and the defense called two, which included the victim’s father, a neighbor, an expert physician, and the victim herself. While the prosecution primarily relied on the victim’s father’s testimony to show Jamal’s guilt, the defense argued that Jamal could not have choked Maria because his left hand was crippled.
The jury found that the prosecution could not show that Robinson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the defense team won, the prosecution did a wonderful job arguing the facts they were given.
“I was nervous at first, but it turned out to be a lot of fun,” Parker said. “The best part was doing the closing argument and seeing people listen to what I have to say.”
“They did a great, great job,” said Judge España. “They took their jobs seriously and were really focused on what they were doing. The fact that they are all sophomores made it all the more impressive.”
“The Crawford students were all very innovative, and remarkable in their execution and delivery in the courtroom,” said CLIMB program coordinator Clinton Minus 2L.
Since its inception a year ago, the CLIMB program has inspired many high school students to obtain a higher education and follow in the footsteps of their mentors.
“A lot of these kids have come from difficult backgrounds,” Professor Slomanson said. “CLIMB was developed to serve as a pipeline from high school to law school.”
CLIMB mentors work with these young men and women in a variety of ways. Every month, TJSL students speak to the Crawford students about the path they took to get to law school, and what they can do to attain the same position. The mentors then hold a roundtable discussion where they answer questions about life and the law school experience.
CLIMB mentors also hold Culture Night, which introduces high school students to entertainment outside of the mainstream media. " Culture Night focuses on current social and legal issues by examining various forms of legislation, art, music, and film," Minus said.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law has also donated roughly $325,000 worth of law books to Crawford Legal Institute.
The program is proving to be a major success, especially for Parker. “After tonight, I definitely know I want to become a defense attorney,” he said.
All TJSL students are invited to participate in CLIMB and become a mentor to a high school student. According to Minus: “CLIMB is not only a great way to help others, but student volunteers benefit as well because they obtain practical real world experience.”
To learn more about CLIMB and how to become involved, email Clinton Minus at firstname.lastname@example.org.