School of Law hosts middle school student-jurors

Quinnipiac mock trial School of Law
School of Law students served as the attorneys and witnesses in a mock trial April 7, while 27 seventh- and eigth-graders from the St. Martin de Porres Academy, a tuition-free school serving underserved middle school students in New Haven, served as the jury.

April 9, 2014 - It took the jury just 10 minutes to find John Thomas not liable inside the School of Law's Grand Courtroom on Monday, April 7.

Thomas, a professor of law, was accused of negligently running down one of his students with his car. He let out a sigh of relief as Jane Grossman, who has been nominated for a Superior Court judgeship, read the verdict of the civil case. 

Thomas later thanked jury members for the quick acquittal.

"I suspect leaking that I was buying pizza for all didn't hurt," he said.

Thomas was the defendant in a car vs. pedestrian mock trial. His law students served as the attorneys and witnesses in the case against Thomas, while 27 seventh- and eighth-graders from the St. Martin de Porres Academy, a tuition-free school serving underserved middle-school students in New Haven, served as the jury. 

"I think that the event went very well," Thomas said. "Both the law students and middle-schoolers enjoyed themselves and learned something. In addition, we at Quinnipiac were able to provide some value to our surrounding community."

Prior to the mock trial, the middle school students were given a brief tour and introduced to Jennifer Brown, dean of the School of Law.

"There are lots and lots of ways to be involved with the legal system," Brown said. "If you're a person who likes ideas, likes to work out problems and thinks about how things can be negotiated, law might be a really good area for you to be thinking about. It's a place where you can make a positive difference in other people's lives."

Thomas said every year his civil procedures course culminates with a mock trial. 

"It gives my students an audience that makes them take the task seriously," Thomas said. "It also lets us have community involvement. I've involved most every middle and high school in New Haven and Hamden over the years. We want them to have fun and be inspired about a possible career path. Some of them are future lawyers."

Kelly O'Leary, principal of St. Martin de Porres Academy, said visiting Quinnipiac and taking part in the mock trial was a wonderful opportunity for her students.

"The mission of our school is to break the cycle of poverty through education," O'Leary said. "I have a couple of kids who want to be a lawyer. Just getting them onto a college campus while they're in middle school - this is how you illuminate the steps along the way."

Grossman, a Quinnipiac alumna, part-time faculty member and family support magistrate for the state of Connecticut, has been nominated by Gov. Dannel Malloy for a seat on the state Superior Court. 

"It's a great opportunity for the (young) students and it's a great opportunity for the law school," Grossman said of the mock trial. "It's a way to connect with the community and see who our future students might be."

Eighth-grader Ibelkis Tejada said she is interested in a career in law. "I like to argue my points," she said. "I like making statements and helping people so their voices will be heard."