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Tell It to the Judge

Mock trial will test persuasive skills of Upward Bound students

A teenager is asked to leave a convenience store; he refuses and is arrested on the spot.  Is the arrest justified?  Or does it violate his civil rights?

Those questions and others surrounding this fictional event will spark an evening of discussion, debate, and legal wrangling at a mock trial that will take place at 6:30 in the moot court room at the BU School of Law.  The case, called “Brown vs. Lawrence and the Metro City Police,” will be argued by two teams of Upward Bound high school students who have been meeting twice a week to prepare for battle.  Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore will act as judge.

“BU has always been supportive of Upward Bound” says Reggie Jean, academic coordinator for the program. “Because of the University, we’ve been able to provide enrichment opportunities the students otherwise might not have had.”

The thirteen students — who will be decked out in their most professional clothes — are taking part in a program that brings 85 high school students to live and study at BU each summer for an intensive six weeks of classes and projects. The students selected for Upward Bound all either come from low-income families or are the first in their families to consider college. Their preparations for the mock trial are above and beyond the round of classes that most Upward Bound students are taking; offered more recreational options like volleyball, basketball, and arts and crafts for their after-class activity, these students chose the mock trial.

“They’ve all worked really hard,” says Tiffany Marsh, the mock trial instructor who also works at the SED preschool. “Initially they had a very “Law and Order” idea of how the trial would work, but they’ve developed a much more mature outlook on what goes into a civil trial.”

Tonight’s trial will test the persuasive skills of three lawyers for the plaintiff and four for the defense; also playing their parts will be six witnesses, a jury, and a judge.  “The lawyers will present opening arguments,” says Jean, “and the witnesses will take the stand and undergo direct examination and cross-exam. Then there will be closing statements before a jury.”

Trial instructor Marsh says she has already noticed a sense of rivalry between the two teams. “That was one of the first things to develop,” she says. “It made them work harder and maximize the time they spent with me. I think they’re going to be great. They all know the material really well, and their success will depend on how well they’re able to fully inhabit their characters — really be a lawyer and really be a witness. That’s the final step.”

This year marks the 17th summer that BU has hosted Upward Bound, offering its residence halls, dining halls, and classrooms. During the school year Upward Bound runs an after-school program of tutoring and academic courses, some of which make use of BU classrooms; the program also has its offices on the BU campus, which provides students with access to the University’s resources.

The Upward Bound program is federally funded and targets four public high schools — Brighton High School, the English High School, Hyde Park High School, and Snowden International High School at Copley — and the six neighborhoods of Allston, Brighton, Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and Mattapan. Students enter the program in either the 9th or 10th grade — referred by guidance counselors, teachers, and occasionally siblings or friends who have already been in the program — and remain with the program until they graduate from high school. The application for the program is similar to a college application and includes essays, teacher recommendations, 8th-grade MCAT scores, tax information, and interviews.

The trial begins tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Room 670 at the BU School of Law.