Mock trial brings different Emerson majors together

Eric Tollar, ELATE faculty member, used his status as a Suffolk law student to set up this event. Photo: Brooke Northrup / Beacon Staff

Over 60 students from Emerson Law Advocacy and Trial Establishment, ELATE, will head to court on March 30. But the case—brought and debated by students—is entirely fictitious.

Political communications major Michael Simon started ELATE last summer. He wanted to give students the opportunity to hold a mock trial, an event in which two teams of fictional attorneys go head-to-head to solve a civil or criminal case and explore the world of law. The first trial next week, a civil case of driver negligence, will take place in a Suffolk University courtroom. Students in the organization, who study a variety of different majors, started preparing in January.

As a current law student at Suffolk University, faculty advisor Eric Tollar booked the courtroom and brought in Federal Judge Isaac Bornstein(CQ) to preside over the case.

Tollar said he broke from the typical mock trial format by making it more like Dungeons & Dragons, a fantasy role-playing game where players go on missions with a Dungeon Master guiding them through the campaign.

“I wanted to take them through not only what happens in the actual trial, but also the events leading up to it,” Tollar said. “I feel like that isn’t emphasized as much in a typical mock trial.”

Both teams of lawyers are given the made-up facts in the lead-up to the trial: A woman named Beth is struck by an Uber driver while walking on a street, and the incident puts her in a coma. Beth’s family then sues the driver for negligence.

Attorneys, played by students in the organization, submitted motions to collect and submit evidence for the trial, including interviewing witnesses—also played by students.

Tollar gave the actors playing witnesses a straightforward character guide. From there, he let them build their own parts. Because of this, the actors have a considerable amount of power to change the course of the trial with their testimony.

Junior Kelley Guerra, who plays the lead plaintiff representing Beth’s family, said the process feels authentic.

“It’s frustrating when you don’t have the answers, and it’s frustrating when your motion for discovery gets completely denied,” Guerra said. “But that’s real life and a lot closer to reality than the normal mock trial set up.

Simon said ELATE is hoping to put on a mock trial once a semester.

“My long-term goal is to be able to come back to Emerson in like three years and still see this happening every semester. I want to leave behind these connections between the various departments as well as relationships with Suffolk,” he said.

Emerson Independent Video and Emerson Channel will record the event and post the edited footage online.

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