The kids will act out both sides of their award-winning "Case of the Hockey Shut-Out," a figment of their young imaginations that took first place in a statewide competition for elementary school students.
The New Jersey Law Fair ‘008, sponsored by the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, challenges children to invent a court case and write testimony for the defendant and plaintiff. Those legal scenarios chosen as winners are then presented in moot-court format at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick before an actual judge and a jury of peers from other schools.
On April 30, six students from Yavneh Academy in Paramus will tell it to the judge.
Associate Principal Elaine Weisfeld has been helping fourth- and fifth-graders participate in the Law Fair for about 1′ years. The Yavneh team won five times in a row, from 1997 to ‘001, and has placed, but not won, in the intervening years.
This year, the after-school enrichment group concocted a hypothetical case in which the administration of "Einstein Middle School" polled its students and decided to offer boys intramural basketball, rather than girls hockey, as its sole after-school team sport. Several girls and their parents maintained that the poll’s results were skewed because girls were unfamiliar with hockey and were also a minority of the school population. Hence the lawsuit against the school’s administration.
"They came up with this topic partly because Yavneh has started a new girls hockey team, so it’s a hot topic here," said Weisfeld, who has been at the co-ed yeshiva for ‘8 years. "One child said he felt discrimination of any type would be a good topic and it developed from there."
The students met for an hour every week from October to January, learning about the differences between civil and criminal cases, and heatedly tossing around ideas for cases, said Weisfeld.
"We talked about the difference between criminal and civil cases, and I told them I thought we’d be better off if we did something civil because it can be more controversial than a criminal case," she said. "We also talked about ‘gray areas.’ I explained that the case had to be very timely, and the grayer the better."
Once there was agreement, the pupils had to write the case in a prescribed format, introducing witnesses and outlining the perspectives of the two attorneys. This month, they received word that they had won first place in the fifth-grade division.
Fortunately, the team had already rewritten the case as a moot-court presentation because they intend to perform it in front of Yavneh students later this year. That gave them a jump-start for the April 30 court date, where they will act out the case. Roles were assigned by choosing them from a hat, although Weisfeld allowed them to trade roles if they wanted to.
The students (and their roles) include fourth-grader Devyn Attias (plaintiff attorney) of Hillsdale; fifth-grader Jordan Farbowitz (Ian Prince, principal) of Teaneck; fifth-grader Gregory Gabovich (defense attorney) of Fair Lawn; fifth-grader Michael Pollack (school coach Pete Puck) of Teaneck; fourth-grader Ayal Yakobe (Dwayne Gretzky, father of one of the girls) of Teaneck; and fifth-grader Yakir Zwebner (Sid Crosby, father of one of the girls and a professional hockey player) of Teaneck.
Weisfeld said the bar foundation publishes winning cases in a booklet the following year, and Montclair State University uses the booklet in a summer class for gifted children.
She said participants gain valuable writing experience and oral-presentation skills, as well as "learning respect for the judicial system, and how controversial many cases are and how many can go either way."
Some of the past participants have gone on to take part in the bar foundation’s Mock Trial Competition at the high school level. "It’s a fun activity and a good learning experience as well," said Weisfeld.