TALLAHASSEE – When Florida State University's (FSU) College of Law mock trial team won first place earlier this month at the 2016 Buffalo-Niagara competition, it won the largest “invitation-only” event of its kind.
Kate Shroeder with the office of Erie County Judge Thomas Franczyk told the Florida Record the invitational is not only the largest in the country, but the only one using “seasoned criminal defense attorneys, as well as judges” as judges and/or evaluators.
Established by Franczyk in 2003, the competition is limited to 35 teams and sponsored by the University at Buffalo School of Law, the New York State 8th Judicial District and the Bar Association of Erie County. Shroeder said that Franczyk creates an imaginary criminal case, usually a murder, for the event.
Coaching the team were FSU alumni and former mock trial team members Ross Marshman, class of 2012, who is an assistant general counsel at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in Tallahassee, and Stacy Sharp, class of 2009, an attorney with the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel in Tallahassee.
Sharp said coaching the debate team is very rewarding on a number of different levels.
“The opportunity to work with young people interested in this narrow piece of law practice as a trial attorney, people pushing themselves to be able to do that is really great," Sharp told the Florida Record. "You can see the positive direction the legal profession is going and you have the opportunity to influence where the legal profession is going. To complain about the new kids is easy, but a handful of us are not on the sidelines complaining and it is very rewarding when you see the results.”
Sharp said during her time in school, all of her team members won best advocate in a final round of a competition.
“This year, our most junior member (Rachel Lopez) won, which certainly meant she had a positive attitude and was excited no less than the rest of the team," Sharp said.
Sharp explained that being on the mock trial team was no small commitment. Out of an average first-year class of more than 200 students, 50 to 75 students audition for the team.
“They may be competing for less than 20 spots," she said.
Having received the competition packet only six weeks prior to the event, Sharp said the team not only practiced twice weekly, but also the entire weekend before the event, delivering their arguments and being critiqued.
“We flew out on Thursday and flew back in on Tuesday,” Sharp said. “So they missed two days of classes right before Thanksgiving break and they have finals next week. Ross (Marsham) and I wanted to bring the sense of being a trial attorney. We worked very hard and the results produced bear this out. We wanted to teach them to be trial attorneys, not mock trial attorneys. We gave them the tools and they built something fantastic."
The mock trial team is composed Joseph Davis, Marianna, Florida; Megan Gottschall, Land O’ Lakes, Florida; Joseph Leavitt, Lake Worth, Florida; and Lopez, Littleton, Colorado.