Discovering Justice Welcomes Students Back into the Courthouse for Mock Appeal

Students from Camp Harborview at their Mock Appeal with Justice Maureen Walsh, and Justice Gabrielle R. Wolohojian

On Wednesday, August 18th, Discovering Justice welcomed 20 high school students from Camp Harbor View and their legal mentors from the Massachusetts Appeals Court into the John Adams Courthouse on Beacon Hill for the first in-person mock appeal event in over a year.

As part of their summer leadership program, Camp Harbor View worked with Discovering Justice and clerks from the Appeals Court to run this interactive four-week summer program. The students were immersed in the workings of the justice system and grappled with the intricacies of the first amendment surrounding a case about freedom of the press. The program culminated with the Mock Appeal at the Courthouse.

“It is wonderful to be able to host legal mentors, students, judges, and families in the courthouse again,” said Mock Appeal Program Manager, Luke Matys. “After a year of being on Zoom, it was exciting to see the in-person interactions between the students and judges at the appeal in the courtroom. We are hoping to do more in-person events in the fall.”

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Fall Semester Mock Trial Program Starts

With the school year quickly approaching, Discovering Justice’s outreach over the summer has recruited a record number of teams for its flagship after-school Mock Trial Program this Fall.

Through the work of Outreach and Recruitment Associate, Malia Brooks, Discovering Justice will be bringing back its signature program to New Bedford and Springfield and expanding the number of schools participating in Boston and Lowell. Brooks spent the summer reaching out to school systems and to the legal community, finding new middle schools and new volunteers to serve as legal mentors.

“The Mock Trial Program connects middle school students with legal professionals to learn about the justice system and cultivate their civic skills, ” said Education Program Director, Laura Brenner. “At the end of the program at the Mock Trial, our students shine, giving arguments confidently to a real judge and jury as student attorneys.”

During the program, students learn about the First Amendment through a case focused on finding the line between free speech and unpopular speech. Under the tutelage of their legal mentors during weekly 90-minute sessions, students create their own opening statements, question witnesses, and deliver persuasive closing arguments.

“We hope that each of our students leave the program as a civic-minded community member ready to navigate these systems and ultimately transform these systems for the better. That all starts with the confidence and skills they practice at Mock Trial as middle schoolers,” explained Brenner.

The ten-week program is set to begin the first week of October and conclude in December with a Mock Trial at courthouses across the Commonwealth.

If you are interested in bringing the program to your middle school, law firm, bar association, or law school this fall or in the future, reach out to Discovering Justice’s Outreach & Recruitment Associate, Malia Brooks at mbrooks@discoveringjustice.org.

Click here or see below to hear from the students, teachers, and legal mentors about their past experiences at Mock Trial.

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New Courthouse Events Program: Panel Discussion

In partnership with the US District Court for the District of MA, Discovering Justice hosted its first Courthouse event of the year with a lively discussion about the importance and challenges of telling the stories of what goes on inside the courtroom.

“Writing the First Draft of Justice – The News Media and the Justice System” brought together three journalists; Chris Villani, a Senior Boston Courts Reporter at Law360, Kimberly Atkins Stohr, a Senior Opinion Columnist at The Boston Globe & MSNBC Contributor, and Patricia Hurtado, a Federal Courts Reporter at Bloomberg News in conversation with Senior United States District Judge George A. O’Toole.

The panel, moderated by Discovering Justice’s Executive Director Matt Wilson, highlighted the openness that COVID has brought to the system with increased access to the public through audio and video broadcasting. The journalists shared the decisions they have made around news coverage of the justice system, and stories from their careers around their coverage of court cases. Judge O’Toole talked about the tensions he and his fellow judges face balancing the need to protect the integrity of the case and the desire to inform the public of the important discussions going on inside the courtroom.

“The media often provides the filter of what we know and learn about the workings of the justice system. It is good to hear that from the Supreme Court to District Courts, the trend is to be more open to the media with their proceedings,” said Wilson.

Discovering Justice looks forward to working with the District Court to host future panel discussions and speaker events at the Moakley Courthouse this Fall and Winter.

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In-Person Tours Return to the Moakley Courthouse

After more than a year of virtual working and learning, Discovering Justice staff and volunteer docents will lead in-person tours at the Moakley Courthouse.

Discovering Justice’s tour has been revised and updated, incorporating new ideas first introduced in our Virtual Tour earlier this year around the civic values represented in the Moakley Courthouse. 

Discovering Justice is now accepting requests for tour groups of up to 15 people. Masks are still required at this time in the building. To book a tour for your Family, student group, organization or friends, email Henry Schunk at hschunk@discoveringjustice.org with the date and number of guests, Henry or one of the docents will be happy to show you around the history, symbols, and architecture of the Moakley Courthouse. 

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Annual Gala Brings Together the Discovering Justice Community

Celebrating the inspirational role that mentors play in its program, Discovering Justice’s Annual Gala Mentoring the Next Generation: Pathways to Civic Engagement brought together more than 225 to raise vital funds for the organization’s programs.

 Highlighting the night was Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey receiving Discovering Justice’s 2021 Champion of Justice. Healey talked about the importance of civic engagement and the importance of getting students involved in our democracy.

The Gala, the largest fundraising event for the organization, raised more than $440,000, exceeding its goal by 10%, through sponsorships, ticket sales, donations, and a silent auction. Thanks to the 55 sponsors including our Presenting sponsor Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Champions of Democracy WilmerHale, Goodwin, and Ropes & Gray.

At the event, Executive Director Matt Wilson previewed Discovering Justice’s strategic plan and the organization’s priorities over the next three years. The Plan will be published and released to supporters this summer.

At the Gala, current and past Discovering Justice mentors and mentees shared their stories on how mentoring provides the confidence, vision, and wisdom needed for success.

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Mock Appeal Program Fields Record Number of Teams

Over the course of three days in the last week of May, 190 students from 22 schools presented their mock appeal cases to sets of judicial panelists before family members, friends, school administrators, and teachers. 

The Mock Appeal was a culmination of an 11 week program in which students wrestled with the intricacies and challenges of the first amendment rights, diving into cases concerning the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

“The Mock Appeal program goes to the core of the Discovering Justice mission providing students the opportunities to examine the workings of the justice system, examine the ideals of justice, and prepare them to engage in our democracy,” said Mock Appeal Coordinator Luke Matys. 

This spring’s program was the largest ever, drawing students from Boston, Lawrence, Danvers, Rehoboth, Somerville, Lowell, Worcester, Framingham, Brookline, and Waltham.

The students delivered convincing, detailed arguments that often left the judicial panels impressed and, in many cases, divided on whether to side with the petitioner or the respondent,” said Matt Wilson, Discovering Justice’s Executive Director. “That is a telling sign that both sides delivered impressive presentations and demonstrated excellent knowledge of the theory underlying the case. 

129 legal mentors from various law firms and organizations across the Commonwealth made the Mock Appeal program possible this semester. Many of these mentors are new to the program this year, including teams from the Worcester Bar Association; Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen, P.C.; Pyle Rome Ehrenberg PC; and Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP. 

 

The staff will be working over the summer to develop new cases for Discovering Justice’s Mock Trial Program in the Fall. With the addition of new schools this spring from Rehoboth, Framingham, and Danvers, the organization is looking to expand the number of teams participating in the fall.

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