Let’s go defense

Lena Nadaner, Incoming Editor-in-Chief

“I object!” junior Reyut Wasserstein yells as she defends her client in court, claiming that her  client was not involved in a college drug ring selling Adderall. She spent months preparing for this moment, ready to argue on the spot as she knows the case inside and out. 

Wasserstein is a member of the CESJDS Mock Trial team, a national program for high schools, colleges and law schools that simulates real trials. JDS competes in the Montgomery County league against other local high schools. 

Each year, the team is given a civil or criminal case. Every  Wednesday afternoon from November to February, the team gathers to learn the rules of mock trials, dissect and understand the case book and write their roles for the trial. 

“[I] learn a lot about the different aspects of the trial, some pretty technical laws and trial procedures, which I thought were really interesting,” senior and team captain Josh Kelner said. 

As captain, Kelner leads the team until trials start and helps during the meetings. However, he does not compete. 

Beginning in January, the team attends trials at the Montgomery County District Court.  This year will be the first year that trials will be held in person since the start of the pandemic in 2020. The trials are run similarly to real trials with a judge and the trial starts with opening statements. Then, lawyers call up witnesses on each side to testify, followed by closing statements. 

“Every year, the students blow us away with how smart they are, and how confident they are, and how eager they are to learn,” team adviser Nanci Bramson said. “And they’re really incredibly impressive.” 

Bramson and her co-advisor, Rona Kelner, have been leading the team since 2019. They bring their experience as lawyers to the team as they teach about the rules and roles of trials and help team members craft arguments. 

“I don’t think we knew what to expect. But we have literally fallen in love with the project of ours. We love working with the kids; we love teaching them about the law,” Bramson said. “I, and I’m sure Rona too, I love feeling like I’m also giving back to JDS … .” 

Of the 14 students on the team, six are given witness roles, six are given attorney roles and two are bailiffs. Wasserstein joined the team in ninth grade as a lawyer.

“It’s everything I love at once. You’re telling a story. And you have these characters that you’re trying to say either did something wrong or didn’t do something wrong,” Wasserstein said. “And because I’ve been on defense, every year, I’m defensively born and raised.” 

According to Wasserstein, one of the challenges of mock trial is having to think on the spot. This requires her to manage her nerves and memorize all the information in the case book. 

Kelner has also learned to be flexible and a quick thinker from his experience on mock trial. 

“So it teaches you to adapt and to think on the fly,” Kelner said. “Sometimes [you have] to change your game plan a little if the judge loves to overrule objections or hates to overrule objections.”

Wasserstein enjoys the mock trial community and plans to use the skills she has learned to become a lawyer in the future. To help prepare, she thinks of the mock trials as having real implications. 

“It feels like you’re actually helping people not go to jail, even though you aren’t because it’s a pretend game,” Wasserstein said. 

Last year, the team made it to the second round of county playoffs. Wasserstein, Bramson and Kelner are excited about the upcoming season and are ready to go to trial. 

“I’m very hopeful,” Bramson said. “I believe in this team. I think we could do really well again this year.”