On Monday, April 29th, The Country Day School Mock Trial Team travelled to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Newmarket to compete against 21 schools from across York Region in a simulation of a criminal court case. After seven months of preparation, with semi-weekly team meetings and several sessions with Carol Shirtliff-Hinds, a practicing advocate and the team’s lawyer coach, Mr. Downer and the eight team members were ready to experience the ultimate legal showdown.
The Ontario Justice Education Network Judges Cup, as the name suggests, is a regional competition between independent and public schools alike in which high school students’ legal skills and critical-thinking abilities are evaluated by a group of practicing judges. Mr. Downer, the team’s passionate and knowledgeable teacher coach, noted, “As the Judges Cup invites actual judges, and is the only high school competition in Ontario to do so, it really gives that sense of veracity and accuracy.” Teams of four lawyers and 2-4 witnesses that have studied and prepared for a particular case, which, this year, was one that included a charge against a parent that failed to provide the necessaries of life to their two-year-old child, were paired up and assigned to represent either the Defence or the Crown.
CDS’ team consisted of Abraham Litwin-Logan ’19, Anaïs Leiva von Bovet ’19, Anna Croxon ’20 and Sarah Gibbons ’20 who had roles as lawyers and Billy Tsiolis ’20, Christina Chkarboul ’21, Maria Ivoditova ’22, and Eliza Pasha ’22 who played witnesses. Mr. Downer supervised the team in preparations and the tournament itself.
The School’s team opposed two others, one from Bur Oak Secondary School and another from Markham High School, in challenging face-offs requiring spontaneous thinking, legal manoeuvering, and skillful public speaking. The ‘lawyers’ were tasked with delivering cross and direct examinations of witnesses as well as opening and closing statements in an attempt to persuade the judge of their side’s theory’s validity. ‘Witnesses’ had to remain composed and in character when explaining their experiences with the case and when responding to rapid-fire questioning from the opposing side. After two intensive trials in which all members gave immensely impressive performances, the team left for home with a hope to have been chosen to be in the Final Four. This is the name given to the second round of the competition, where the best-performing teams from the preliminary round compete in the Finals for the Judges Cup - a prestigious honour and trophy bestowed upon the team placing 1st overall.
The much-awaited email arrived several days later, bearing good news - CDS had managed to earn a coveted spot in the Second Round! Testimonies in hand and Mariposa Hospital buttons fastened on their blazers, the team travelled once again to the Superior Court of Justice to compete against the other three best Mock Trial teams in York Region. After another two trials, one against Middlefield Collegiate Institute and another against St. Augustine Catholic High school, CDS Mock Trial members filed into a large courtroom filled with anticipation to hear the results of the tournament.
After much suspense, it was announced that the School’s team had placed 2nd in the competition! To add to the overwhelming joy and pride the team felt, two individual awards were presented to two team members - Anaïs had won a Merit award and Abraham was given the great honour of accepting the award for Best Crown!
In response to the team’s superb performance, Mr. Downer commented, “We’ve slowly built a very successful program. In the past, we’ve had people who have won individual awards. We made Top 4 for the first time three years ago, once again two years ago, and last year as well. We’ve been motivated by our past performance to push harder and strive for even greater results, and greater results we did achieve. Being one of the two schools in the Championship this year is something truly impressive and a testament to how far our club has come over the course of its existence.”
Congratulations are most certainly in order for all of those who helped the team in attaining this exceptional achievement, including the competitors themselves, Ms. Shirtliff-Hinds, and, without a doubt, Mr. Downer.