Community Support Overflows for Mock Trial Students at Final Events

A record number of 29 middle school teams presented their Fourth Amendment cases at Discovering Justice’s Mock Trial events this past week, arguing the complicated line between personal privacy and public safety.

In a six-day stretch, Discovering Justice hosted in-person events in ten Massachusetts cities (and the organization’s first out-of-state team from Providence) before juries of community members as well as presiding federal and state judges. The events welcomed more than 350 students, 130 legal mentors, 29 judges, 32 teacher coordinators, and more than 300 jurors into the eleven different courthouses.

Mock Trial night at the Moakley Courthouse featured eleven mock trials with students from Boston, Brookline, Medford, and Waltham and more than 400 attendees, including many proud family members.

“The students did an incredible job wrestling with this complex issue and the path to justice on the case,” said Luke Matys, Discovering Justice Mock Trial Program Manager. “It was inspiring to see all the families, legal mentor volunteers, courthouse staff, school staff, and community leaders participate to support the students and the program.”

“It was a really good experience that I’ll definitely remember,” said Maia Bickford-Loy, a seventh grader from Worcester’s Sullivan Middle School. “It was something that can help me with my confidence in the future.”

Discovering Justice hosted the in-person events at courthouses for teams in the cities and towns of Boston, Brockton, Brookline, Douglas, Framingham, Lowell, Medford, Pittsfield, Providence, South Hadley, Springfield, Waltham, and Worcester.

The students tackled a case based on the 1985 Supreme Court Case, New Jersey v. T.L.O., which set the precedent for students’ Fourth Amendment Rights around search and seizure issues in public schools. This case, which involved the seizure of a student’s computer and cell phone, highlighted the tension between the right to privacy, a central right protected by the Constitution, and the need for public safety.

“Discovering Justice is dedicated to bringing together lawyers, teachers, students, and judges to do something powerful,” described Matys. “At the events, the student attorneys’ youth took center stage, discussed the complex issue of justice, and used their voices to advocate for it.”

You can read more about the Pittsfield Event in the Berkshire Eagle and about the Worcester event in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

If you are a legal professional, school leader, teacher, or parent interested in engaging in Discovering Justice’s Mock Appeal Program this Spring, please contact Malia Brooks at mbrooks@discoveringjustice.org.

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Bill of Rights Student Essay Contest – Cash Prizes!

If you could add an amendment to the Bill of Rights, what right would you protect and why?

The U.S. District Court for the District Court of Massachusetts, Discovering Justice, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the Federal Bar Association encourage high school students in Boston, Worcester, and Springfield to participate in their annual Bill of Rights Student Essay Contest.

The essay contest asks Boston, Worcester, and Springfield high school students to answer this question in 550 words or less, “If you could add an amendment to the Bill of Rights, what right would you protect and why?”

A panel of federal judges will select the top essays and award cash prizes totaling $1,000 for first, second, and third place.

The deadline for the essay submission is January 31, 2023. You can submit your essay here. Visit here to find out more details about the contest.

A hybrid (in person/virtual) public event to celebrate the essay finalists and ALL students who participated in this contest will be held in February 2023. All school, family, and community members will be welcome.

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Students! Know Your Rights!

The Fourth Amendment protects our rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. Yet, many students are unaware of their rights against these unreasonable searches and seizures in their school.

Discovering Justice’s panel event on November 22nd, Know Your Rights: Student 4th Amendment Privacy in Schools, provided students with the opportunity to learn from legal experts about their rights.

  • Judge Jay Blitzman – Former justice of the Massachusetts Juvenile Court and Public Defender
  • Charity Kruzel – Attorney in Charge for the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Springfield Youth Advocacy Division
  • Mary Landergan – Adjunct Professor at Northeastern University School of Law 

Panelists discussed the constitutional rights of students in schools as well as explored the issues of over-policing and the school-to-prison pipeline, as it relates to the 4th Amendment.

Many students participating in Discovering Justice’s Mock Trial Program attended the virtual panel and gained valuable information to use as they prepared for their culminating trials through the program.

“This was such an important and timely panel discussion given the cultural climate we face. Information is powerful and students are empowered because they are more informed about their 4th Amendment rights,” said Maureen Hickey, a Brockton middle school teacher and teacher coordinator of the West Middle School Mock Trial Team.

You can watch a recording of the event here.

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Trial by Jury: Does the American Jury System Bring about Justice?

America holds 80% of the jury trials in the world, yet less than 5% of cases in the judicial system go to a jury trial. How did we get here? Is having this low percentage of cases where the American judicial system should be?

These were some of the questions panelists took on during Discovering Justice’s November 14th Courthouse event Trial by Jury: Does the American Jury System Bring About Justice?

Moderated by Discovering Justice Executive Director Matt Wilson, the panel hosted Senior United States District Judge, the Honorable William G. Young, Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School Dehlia Umunna, Former Federal Public Defender for Massachusetts, Miriam Conrad, and Assistant United States Attorney Dustin Chao.

Judge Young spoke about the unique and powerful role that jurors play as constitutional officers. Professor Umunna talked about the racial bias in the jury trial process that results in the incarceration rates for black males being more than five times that of white males. Chao and Conrad brought their unique perspectives as federal prosecuting and defense attorneys and the impact that jury trials have on the preparation and presentation of their cases.

“I greatly enjoyed the lively and thoughtful discussion that was generated by hearing different perspectives from a federal judge, a prosecutor, a public defender, and a law professor, all of whom are talented and very passionate about what they do,” commented Jerry Howland, a Boston Public School educator who attended the event.

You can watch a recording of the event here. More Courthouse events are being planned by Discovering Justice and the Moakley Courthouse for the Spring of 2023.

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Courthouse Tours Help Students and Community Members Explore the Moakley

With the COVID pandemic waning, Discovering Justice is excited to welcome more community members back to the Moakley Courthouse. Since July, more than 200 people have visited for tours to hear about the architecture, art, and history of the building.

In the hour-long tours, guides explore major themes that examine the tensions inherent in the architecture and workings of the Courthouse such as: transparency vs. security, historical precedence vs. current society, and tradition vs. creativity. In addition, tour guides urge visitors to explore the question, “What is justice and how can I use my voice to advocate for it?”

“Having a civic space like the Moakley is foundational to a democracy and our tours provide the community members with the opportunity to dive deep into the history and workings of the justice system,” said Kiara Batista, Discovering Justice Courthouse Programs Associate.

Hannah Weiser, an adjunct professor at Babson College who brought in a group of business school students to the Moakley remarked, “The court visit provided an opportunity to engage with the law in a unique manner that is unparalleled to the classroom. The students and faculty found the experience to be extremely valuable.”

With more interest in tours, Discovering Justice is adding more volunteer docents to conduct tours. “We want to expand our capacity to give tours and diversify our pool from college students to retirees and to people of all backgrounds,” said Batista.

With the help of our growing set of docents, the organization looks forward to bringing in more than 1,000 adults and students of all ages to the courthouse this year for tours. To schedule a tour for you or your group, fill out this form or email kbatista@discoveringjustice.org.

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Welcome New Staff to Discovering Justice

With Discovering Justice Programs serving more participants than ever, the organization continues to grow its staff to meet this increasing demand. In September, Discovering Justice welcomed three new individuals to the team – new staff member, Hassan Chehab and two new fellows, Kate Uluatam and Megan Schneider.

Hassan Chehab – Development and Administrative Associate

Hassan graduated from UMass-Boston with a Masters in International Relations degree. He has a background in data management and social research.

Having experience in Worcester Public Schools administration and healthcare staffing data management, he went on to do work researching COVID-19 vaccine accessibility for countries in the Middle East, as well as building a body of research for energy infrastructure reform in Massachusetts.

“I joined Discovering Justice because programs that educate youth about the justice system are not only inherently useful and helpful, it is so desperately needed.”

As the new Development and Administrative Associate, Hassan will work to support the Discovering Justice team by managing and improving systems and the organization’s operations.

When Hassan is out of the office, he enjoys playing sports, watching movies, and playing board games with friends.

Megan Schneider – Communications Fellow

Megan is a recent graduate from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont where she received her degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts with a minor in Gender Studies.

During her time at school she worked as the photographer at the campus marketing department, was president of the Feminist Club, and was a coordinator for the Center for Women and Gender on campus.

With her passion for social justice and love for telling stories through visual media, she is excited to help broadcast the stories and impacts of Discovering Justice’s programs.

“I’m excited to work with a wonderful staff and learn from them. Combining my skills in visual media with social justice is something I’ve always hoped to be able to do after graduation.”

As the Communications Fellow, Megan will work with Malia Brooks, Discovering Justice’s Outreach and Recruitment Senior Associate, to utilize the organization’s website, social media platforms, and access to media outlets to help broadcast the stories and impacts of Discovering Justice’s programs.

In her free time, Megan likes to do photography, ski, and spend time with friends and family.

Kate Uluatam – Mock Trial Fellow

Kate is currently a junior at Northeastern University pursuing a degree in psychology and criminal justice.

She has always been interested in the justice system and the pursuit of her degree has only deepened this interest.

Her passions lie in equitable education and opportunity. Kate is excited to work with students, teachers, and attorneys to make the Mock Trial Program a success.

“I am thrilled to be a part of Discovering Justice’s team this fall. Being able to invest in my passions for justice and education while learning about nonprofits and the legal system, is a one-of-a-kind experience which I am beyond excited about.”

As the Mock Trial Fellow, Kate will work with Luke Matys, the organization’s Mock Trial, Mock Appeal, and Topics Program Manager, to run the fall Mock Trial Program. She is looking forward to gaining experience working with volunteers and participants, as well as the Discovering Justice team.

When she’s not working with students, teachers, and attorneys to make the Mock Trial Program a success, Kate loves to weight lift and try new foods.

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