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Trial Practice Class Simulation Prepares Students and Volunteers for the Courtroom

Posted on Thursday 5/10/2018
Trial Practice class

Students in Professor Lee Michaels’ L’67 Trial Practice class recently participated in a simulated trial as part of their final grade. The simulated trial cast the students as prosecutors, defenders, and witnesses in a fictitious criminal case. Also taking part in the simulations were an actual judge and a deputy from the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department.

“The goal of this course is to prepare students to step into the courtroom and try a relatively simple case as soon as they are admitted to the bar. To me, the best way to accomplish this is to throw the students into adversarial situations from the first class to the last moment of their final trial,” said Michaels. “There are very few lectures. Instead, the students get a critique after their weekly exercise and I don’t hold back. I don’t worry about embarrassing someone who has made a mistake or can do something better. No one escapes the semester without some criticism. Thus, the students learn not only from their own exercise and critique but from the critiques other students receive.”

A recent simulation featured Auburn City Judge David Thurston L’04 as the judge, with 3Ls Sarah Wheeler and Chris Genrich representing the prosecution and 3Ls Jason Zajdel and Matt Martello representing the defendants. Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Brian Myers served as a witness, along with other students from the class. Testifying in the other trials were Deputy Mike Baim and Lt. Brian Schenck.

“This a great collaboration between the two groups. The students did a great job presenting and defending the case,” said Schenck. “The class is an effective way to get our deputies and patrol staff trained and comfortable being in a courtroom setting.”

“To make it even more realistic, for the final trials, I invite area judges and trial lawyers to participate as the presiding judge. Last year we began a collaboration with the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department. This year, the collaboration is such that, in three separate trials we have received the participation of a deputy or higher in each trial,” said Michaels. “The deputies seem to like testifying in a mock situation where no one may go to jail or escape a conviction because of a mistake they might make. When the deputy is finished testifying, we stop the trial and the presiding judge and I critique the deputy as a witness. From the feedback I have received, this collaboration has been a beneficial activity for all involved.’’

Over the course of four final trials, the guest judges were: Auburn City Court Judge Michael McKeon, Kevin Kuehner L’99 of Kuehner Law Firm, Judge Thurston, and US Magistrate Judge Thérèse Dancks L‘91, the last three all being former trial practice students of Michaels.

In addition to students, volunteers from the local community act as witnesses. In one case, says Michaels, a husband played the part of an alleged rapist and his wife played the part of the alleged victim.