Such was the gist of the case presented before a panel of three judges Friday afternoon at St. John's University during the Atlantic Coast Regional competition of the National Intercollegiate Mock Trial Tournament. Mock trial has long been a staple of law school life, but the students in this competition were all undergraduates.The St. John's veteran squad won a bid to compete in the national finals after playing the prosecution against crosstown rival Columbia in Friday's trial, said Bernard Helldorfer, the team founder and coach, and director of the school's legal studies program. St. John's has reached the top level of competition 13 years out of the past 15, and finished five times in the top 10, he said."The two men on the [St. John's] team are freshmen," Helldorfer said of the winning squad, Team A.The competition began Friday afternoon and lasted through the weekend in St. John's fourth year of hosting the tournament. The field of 26 teams represented 11 East Coast colleges and universities and included veteran and rookie squads from Amherst College, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Fordham University, Iona College, Trinity College and the University of Delaware. This year's competition includes 553 teams from across the country.After the trial the judges critiqued each team member - whether they were a prosecutor, defender or witness - on qualities such as his or her performance, preparedness, competence in the subject matter, confidence and ability to guide witnesses.Judge Randall T. Eng, a sitting judge on the State Supreme Court who also critiqued Friday's trial, offered another bit of advice for times when a judge seems unreceptive."If you raise objections and see the judge isn't going to go your way, let it lie and then go back on redirect [examination] and hammer it home," Eng said.Helldorfer said teams spent an average of 350 hours preparing for the competition.The top two teams advance to the intermediate round on March 16 through 18, which will determine the 24 regional winners and 40 teams that qualify for the national championship April 13 to 15 at Stetson University in St. Petersburg, Fla.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at news@times
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