Coached by Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Eric Schwartzreich and Assistant United States Attorney Michael Gilfarb, the American Heritage School (Plantation) Mock Trial Team won for the fourth time Saturday the state championship hosted by the Florida Law Related Education Association (F.L.R.E.A) in Orlando, according to Nikki Laurie Van Allen, American Heritage program director, on Monday.
“These aspiring young lawyers excelled and exceeded all expectations,” American Heritage program director Nikki Laurie Van Allen told South Florida Reporter. “From winning the state competition in previous years, to placing in the top 20 at nationals and placing in the top 5 at the Empire Invitational, an international mock trial competition held every year in New York City, an American Heritage tradition continues.”
Advancing over 17 other Florida teams, American Heritage explored the concepts of manslaughter and hazing, pitting prosecution and defense against each other to prove guilt or innocence. Beating out Trinity Catholic High School of Ocala, the American Heritage Patriots conducted opening and closing statements and performed direct as well as cross examinations.
Tried in ceremonial courtroom 23A of the Orange County Courthouse – the same courtroom in which infamous alleged child-killer Casey Anthony was tried – this year’s mock trial problem was an alleged pledging incident at the fictional Gulf Breeze University, where the prosecution claimed Hunter Wilson, played by Skyler Schwartzreich, caused the death of a fellow student. The prosecution called Police Officer Riley Johnson, played by student Talha Pala, while the defense called Ashton Davis, a witness to the incident, played by Chase Freeman.
Student lawyers from American Heritage included Tiffany Pages-Sanchez, Nicolas Sweet, and Jordyn Allen. Skylar Schwartzreich played Hunter Wilson, the fictional defendant and a student at Gulf Breeze University while Chase Freeman played Ashton Davis, a defense witness; Talha Pala played Riley Johnson, the investigating police officer and prosecution witness; Arturo Gonzalez played Shawn Reed, the examining doctor and witness for both sides; and Lara Olsson played Jordan Miller, a prosecution witness.
Tiffany Pages Sanchez was recognized as the best overall attorney by the Florida Law Related Education Association. Sloane Kapit and Emily Irogyen deserve an honorable mention as timekeepers and alternate team members, along with American Heritage principal Elise Blum who also made the trip to Orlando.
“Mock trial developed me into a better litigator and person,” American Heritage student Tiffany Pages Sanchez told South Florida Reporter. “It taught me the value of confidence, poise, and effective communication. It is by far the most rewarding experience of my high school years.”
An inspiration to school and students alike, teacher Robert Thompson was presented the 2017 Ed Lange Legacy Award, recognition for his tireless contribution that has effected and impacted countless student lives.
“Mock trial has allowed me not only the opportunity to learn how to speak and act in a real courtroom, but has also created a forum where high schoolers can project their ideas through a professional medium,” American Heritage student Chase Freeman told South Florida Reporter.
“This experience has allowed me to work hands-on with real criminal defense attorneys and federal prosecutors,” offered American Heritage student Nicolas Sweet. “An invaluable learning experience which I will not soon forget.”
Following American Heritage School (Plantation) as state champion, Trinity Catholic High School of Ocala placed second and American Heritage (Boca Delray) placed third.
“Mock trial has impacted me for the rest of my life,” American Heritage student Lara Olsson told South Florida Reporter. “Nothing compares to the confidence and conviction that this experience enables me to exert. The bond that I created with my teammates and coaches is for eternity.”
American Heritage will now proceed to the NHSMTC National High School Mock Trial from May 11-13, in Hartford, Connecticut, where they will be challenged by some of the best schools in America.
“It’s an inspiration to coach and prepare these young students to be part of a profession I love. We are more than a team, we are family,” Eric Schwartzreich told South Florida Reporter. “And it was even more of a family to be able to coach my daughter to first a state, then hopefully a national championship.”