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By Mary White
From: The Docket Online, February 22, 2005
George Mason's commitment to build a first-class trial program paid big dividends this past year when Jeff Harper (2D) and Joanna Faust (2D) presented a murder case that powered past former title-holding schools, such as Georgetown, Catholic, and Howard. Their efforts won them third place from among 22 teams at the National Trial Competition Regionals, held at Fairfax Circuit Court, February 10-12.
Chidi James, a GMU alumnus, coached Harper and Faust. They entered the final rounds on Saturday in first place with the highest number of points and votes from the preliminaries, but drew the prosecution side and sustained their first loss of the tournament. The teams from the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary took first and second, respectively. Those teams will go on the National Finals in Austin, Texas in March.
This is Mason's second year as permanent host of the event, which covered three days, included 11 regional law schools and involved hundreds of participants. There are no signs of waning enthusiasm from either the student body or the administration. New Dean, Daniel Polsby, and Faculty Advisor to the Trial Advocacy Association, Judge Jonathan C. Thacher of the Fairfax Circuit Court, hailed this accomplishment as just the beginning.
"We plan to build a first-class trial team," said Judge Thacher. "We have the talent, we have the commitment and we have the venue. It's going to happen. Mason students who want to learn will enter the job market with the skills they need to argue a motion and put together a case. The readiness of Mason students to actually practice the law they learned here will enhance this school's reputation of putting out quality lawyers."
Thacher, a 1980 GMUSL graduate, was one of a group of students who put forth an incredible effort lobbying the legislature in the late 1970s to accredit the law school and merge the former International School of Law and George Mason University. He has served as the President of the Alumni Association and currently serves on several committees at the school. His Advanced Criminal Procedure course has grown in popularity as students realize that learning how to prepare motions and arguments from a sitting judge is a valuable skill not available at every law school. Thacher was impressed by the caliber and commitment of the students participating. Former Dean of the law school, Mark Grady, wasted no time in recruiting Thacher to build Mason's trial advocacy program. This year's program has flourished under his guidance and the hard work of the current Trial Advocacy executive board, consisting of President Justin Witt (4E), Vice-Presidents Iliana Ilieva (2D) and Janis Castaneda (3D) and Treasurer Yancey Ellis (3D).
This year's impressive panel of evaluators and judges consisted of several area judges, including Judges Stitt, Wooldridge, Vieregg, Bellows, Daniel, and Roush of Fairfax, Chief Judge Newman and Judge Kelley of Arlington, and Judge Gerald Bruce Lee of the Eastern District Court. Sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers, the event also drew ACTL fellows and attorneys from the Department of Justice, the Attorney General's office and local high-level firms.
But the George Mason students remain the foundational building block of the program. The National Trial Competition Regional includes law schools of the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas. Each school sent two teams. William Groh (3D) and Robert Bruce (2D) made up Mason's second team. All four participants served as witnesses for last year's competition and left with the intent to compete this year. Student participation is a critical element in the success of the program and of the regional. This year's event required 55 students each evening to serve as witnesses and bailiffs in the courtrooms; with 22 teams competing in 11 courtrooms, the courthouse was a flurry of activity, but the event proceeded smoothly. All students are eligible to participate; membership requires assisting during competitions and is open to anyone willing to work. In the words of the Honorable R. Terrence Ney of Fairfax, "Anyone can be good trial lawyer; all it takes is hard work. And more work. And even more work."
To find out more about the organization and how to help make yourself into a top trial lawyer, watch for information on Trial Ad's upcoming pizza "thank-you" event