Today’s news:

Boro’s future lawyers win citywide mock trial contest

On June 1, a group of seventh-graders from the Little Neck school took top honors at the 7th Annual Thurgood Marshall Junior Mock Trial Program, held at the State Supreme Court in Bronx County.

Michelle Shapiro, Seth Teleky, Diane Yee, Desiree Daring, Darim Choi and Harrison Goldspeil, with alternate Julie Malkin and led by teacher David Schwartz, represented the borough in the citywide competition. It was the first time a middle school from Queens had entered.

The team won first place, and each student was awarded a $100 savings bond. In addition, Desiree won the best advocate award, which came with a new computer and a $2,000 college scholarship.

Several teammates came back to the school -on the first day of summer vacation, no less - to admire their hard-won plaque and trophy, which had arrived earlier that day.

"My mom used to be a secretary for a lawyer," Michelle said, "so I thought it would be cool."

"It was a chance to learn about the law and learn what it feels like to be a lawyer," Seth said. Like many of his teammates, Seth wants to be a criminal lawyer. "I could never be a tax lawyer. I don't like numbers," he said. "I like the personal involvement of criminal law, the grit."

Earlier this year, Borough President Helen Marshall had called MS 67 Principal Mae Fong to ask if the middle school, billed as a pre-law academy, would represent Queens in the mock trials.

Schwartz, who is a practicing estate lawyer in addition to his pre-law and social studies teaching duties, formed mock trial clubs for 80 seventh- and eighth-graders at the school.

Of the clubs, six teams of six students each were picked to go to the first round of the competition. On each team, students either play the role of a lawyer or a witness, and teams are either arguing for the defense or for the prosecution. The students worked with five lawyers from the Queens County Bar Association to help whip their cases into shape. All the teams from MS 67 went on to the semi-finals, making it the only school to capture that honor, according to Schwartz.

In the end, this seventh-grade team won the championship for its skillful prosecution of the State of New York v. Rausch murder case.

"We had to prove that he killed someone," Michelle said of the fictional defendant, Chris Rausch. "Not in self-defense, I mean," she added. Rausch allegedly had a bar run-in with victim Rob or Robin Jones - "the names were gender-neutral," Seth said - and shot Jones.

"I think the prosecution had the stronger case," Schwartz said.

The defense, argued by a team from Brooklyn's Our Lady of Perpetual Health in the finals, even conceded that the MS 67 students' case was tough to beat.

"After Seth did the closing argument, the other team came over and said 'Y'all might win,'" Michelle said. "I think our case was better."

Asked what she liked the most about her mock trial experience, Desiree said triumphantly, "Winning."

As the students piled into Fong's office to look at the three-foot tall championship trophy with their school's name neatly engraved on one side, Fong said, "Where in the lobby can we build a showcase for this?"

"Do we have the funding?" Seth asked immediately.

Fong replied, "Remember, there's always candy sales."

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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