NEW BRUNSWICK — Rutgers University Mock Trial Association’s (“RUMTA”) top competition team made a lasting impression on its first trip to the Intercollegiate Mock Trial National Championship Tournament, which was April 13-15. Rutgers competed against Duke University in the National Championship Trial, losing the final trial by just five points out of a possible 140 and finishing second in the nation out of over 650 teams that competed in the intercollegiate competition this year. Rutgers’ team captain, Stephanie Ashley, was named an All-American Attorney, the highest individual recognition in college mock trial. Only 26 student-attorneys out of approximately 3,000 earn this distinction each year.
Middlesex County Bar Association members Craig Aronow, Kimberly Yonta and Michael Roberts coach RUMTA’s three competition teams.
The top 48 college mock trial teams in the nation qualified for the tournament. Those 48 were split into two divisions of 24. Rutgers’ division included perennial mock trial powerhouse colleges such as UCLA, Harvard, NYU and UVA.
Each team tried the case of “State of Midlands v. Danny Dawson” four times, two as the prosecution and two as the defense. The case centered around three friends leaving a bar after a birthday celebration followed by a car accident where one of the friends is killed. The driver of the car is charged with DUI and murder. The team with the best record from each division after the four rounds earned the right to compete for the National Championship. Rutgers and Duke both won their division with 7-1 records (two judges score each round and each judge’s ballot counts as a win, loss or tie).
After the second day of competition, Rutgers was 5-1 in sole possession of first place in their division. The team knew that if they won the final trial against Washington University of St. Louis, who was second in the division at 4-2, they would be competing for the National Championship. At a banquet following the fourth round, Rutgers was announced as the winner of its division.
When the school’s name was announced the team members jumped, cheered and cried. This achievement is a first in Rutgers mock trial history. The program, which has been in existence since 2006, is very young compared to many of the schools that it beat to earn the right to compete for the National Championship.
To earn the right to compete in the tournament, Rutgers first had to finish in the top 8 of 25 teams that competed in the Regional competition in Baltimore, Maryland on February 11-12, and then finish in the top 6 of 24 teams that competed in the Open Round Championship in Washington D.C. on March 17-18.
Stephanie Ashley, had this to say about the work that went into becoming an All-American, “The feeling of becoming an All-American Attorney is indescribable. I feel ecstatic, prideful, and accomplished. The hours upon hours I spent working to develop as a student-attorney have paid off. I have proven to myself that with the right motivation, dedication and positive state of mind, I can do anything.” Ashley will be working for Teach for America next year in New York City and then head to law school the following year.
Financially, the Middlesex County Bar Foundation and several local law firms have supported the team, including: Rebenack, Aronow & Mascolo; Law Office of Lowell Miller; Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis; and Zager Fuchs. Bar sponsors such as Schulman, Wiegmann & Associates have also supported the team. Rutgers substantially increased the team’s funding this year. Professors, Milton Heumann, and Barry Qualls, also the Vice President for Undergraduate Education, made sure that the team had what it needed to get to Minnesota to proudly represent Rutgers and the State of New Jersey.
The Rutgers A-Team has had unprecedented success this year. The team finished second in the fall invitational tournament at the Coast Guard Academy and won the invitational tournament at Swarthmore University earlier this semester. Junior, Rachel Holt, received a Top Attorney Award during the Fall invitational.
In the Open Round Championship, A-Team senior, Jennifer Przybylski, also received a Top Attorney Award for being ranked in the top 5 out of approximately 150 student-attorneys. Both Travis Nunziato and Kyle Brach, seniors, contributed substantially to the A-Team’s success this year.
The Rutgers B-Team has also had unprecedented success this year, as it advanced out of the Baltimore Regional and competed in the Newport Beach, CA Open Round Championship. The B-Team has several underclassmen who may fill the shoes of the A-Team’s graduating seniors. The future is bright for Rutgers Mock Trial.
The strongest performance for the Rutgers team in the National Championship Trial came from a junior, Zaniah Maynor. When asked about her performance in the most pressure filled trial in intercollegiate mock trial, Zaniah said, “I will never forget sitting down after my cross examination and smiling because I knew everything just clicked. I felt like the courtroom belonged to me for those ten minutes. It took a lot of hard work to be able to do that and it felt good to know that I had contributed to my team’s success.”
Dahoud Askar, a four-year member of Rutgers University Mock Trial is the association’s president and a senior heading off to Harvard Law School in the fall. When asked about his team’s success in the NCT, he said, “This weekend was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. This team has spent years building the bonds that were tested this weekend, and we came through on the other side with the knowledge that we are stronger than we ever could have thought. I am so proud of this team.”
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