This year, the fifth graders at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus participated in the New Jersey Law Fair Competition. In the competition, the best case is picked from across schools in the New Jersey area and is presented to a judge at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.
We started the process by learning about what happens inside the courtroom. The next step was to learn about what makes a good case. Each student created an original case to share with his/her classmates. The class then voted on which of the cases they wanted to work on as a class project for the competition. In my class, 5B, Noah Weiss was the winner. For the next two months, our entire class created witness statements, instructions to the jury and researched the laws connected to the case. We constantly edited and revised the case, breaking up into small groups in order to discuss our opinions about the case. We then constructed the final draft using everyone’s ideas.
Our case, titled “Breaking Point,” was about a new student who is bullied. When trying to protect himself, he assaults the bully and is prosecuted for assault. The judges at the New Jersey Bar Foundation found our class case to be the best. We were elated to come in first place! Our class cheered for Noah and we were proud of our joint effort.
We then needed to transform our case into a court trial with opening and closing statements from lawyers on both sides, as well as direct and cross examination questions to each of the four witnesses.
On May 21, our class took a trip to the New Jersey Law Center. First, Yavneh Academy fourth graders (second place) presented their case to us. Their case, titled “Identity Catastrophe,” was about a kid who got treated at the hospital with medications that he is allergic to, and developed a bad reaction. They did a great job and it was fun to see other people’s work.
After, we presented our case. Tony Tormentor, the victim, was played by Tani Shields, who was represented by his lawyers Zachary Cohen and Eli Stein. Shields wore a bloody bandage on his nose, which had been smashed in by the defendant, Murphy Law, whose lawyers were Noah Weiss and Ilan Sugarman. Witnesses included Tyler Spectator (defense), played by Gavriel Saks, and Mrs. Sees (prosecution), played by Gabriel Melnikov (a special thanks to him for wearing a dress, heels and a wig). All actors did a spectacular job and infused their roles with a lot of personality!
One of the most exciting parts of the experience was getting to debate the cases as part of the jury. Murphy received three votes and Tony received four. Because our case was a criminal case, the judge explained, the jury had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Murphy was guilty. This meant that a unanimous vote is needed for Murphy to be considered guilty, and since it was not, Murphy was found innocent.
Participating in the law fair was a great experience and it was fun to be in a real court. We learned that cases are not always clear cut and that verdicts are not always obvious. Sometimes it is hard to reach a final decision! We owe many thanks to our dedicated teachers, Mrs. Saks and Mrs. Cox, for helping us throughout this great learning process.
Your honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, goodbye!