DAYTON — Shelby County Common Pleas Court Magistrate Gary J. Carter recently served as a presiding judge in a mock trial, which was part of a regional round of the National Trial Competition, hosted by the University of Dayton School of Law at the Montgomery County Courts Building.
The National Trial Competition is one of the oldest and most prestigious mock trial competitions in the United States. The program is designed to expose law students to the nature of trial practice. Every American Bar Association-accredited law school is invited to compete in this annual competition.
The facts of this year’s fictitious case involved a private pilot flying a single engine airplane in a remote area, at night, when he ran out of fuel. The air traffic controller directed the pilot to land on a private runway, which was paved and had a pilot-activated runway lighting system. Unfortunately, the runway lights were inoperable; the plane crashed; and the pilot was killed. The pilot’s widow sued the owner of the runway, a wealthy rancher, alleging that his negligence in failing to maintain the runway lights caused the accident and her husband’s death. The rancher’s defense was that the pilot’s negligence in failing to properly plan and prepare for the flight, caused the accident.
In the mock trial which Carter presided over, two law students argued for the widow, and two law students argued for the rancher. Carter ruled on motions and objections during the mock trial, just as he does during real trials in his own courtroom. Three practicing attorneys joined Carter as scoring judges, and students were given points for each aspect of their performance. Thirty-six mock trials were conducted by a host of volunteer attorneys, magistrates and judges over the course of the weekend, and the two teams with the most points were chosen as the top two teams of the regional round. The top two teams from each of the fourteen regional tournaments will advance to the championship rounds in Dallas, March 30 through April 3.
Carter, a licensed private pilot himself, said that he enjoyed judging this year’s competition. He indicated that the law students were well prepared, and their trial skills are strong enough to practice in a real courtroom, as soon as they pass the bar examination. Carter also enjoyed the fact that his son, Luke, who is considering entering law school in a few years, was able to join him and observe the competition.
Although Carter had no idea which universities the teams came from, he later learned that two from this region who went on to final rounds in Texas were from the universities of Cincinnati and Michigan.