Mock trial teaches lessons about justice, bullying
Detroit — Judge Michael Riordan peered down from his bench Thursday morning and instructed the plaintiff’s lawyer to begin opening statements in a school bullying case, Billings vs. Pearson.
The lawyer, in a tailored blue suit, straightened his posture and said, “C.J. Pearson inflicted emotional distress upon Alex Billings and the school failed to provide protection.” Then, for dramatic flair, he leaned one arm on the podium and loudly added, “But before the defense says it’s a game, it is not a game. Over 2,000 text messages is not a game.”
Riordan was impressed with the plaintiff’s lawyer, Terrance Gilley. Especially since Gilley is only 13, and in the seventh grade at Cornerstone Charter Schools’ Washington-Parks Academy in Redford Township.
Gilley and his classmates are members of the after-school Judge Michael Riordan Law Club. They spent seven months preparing for the mock trial about cyber-bullying, held in room 601 in the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.
Josh Speyers, a social studies teacher who selected students to participate in the mock trial, and April McKie, a law student at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, helped the participants prepare for the mock trial.
Some students played the roles of witnesses, while others were lawyers and key players in the bullying incident. There were direct examinations, cross-examinations and everything else that happens in a real trial — including sulky, defiant defendants.
When the plaintiff’s lawyer asked C.J. Pearson, the bully, played by 11-year-old sixth-grader Jayla Gamblin, whether she and defendant Alex Billings were friends, C.J. became hostile and replied, “We were friends.” Asked if she posted bullying messages on “MyFace,” C.J. said yes, explaining that when she invited the other girl to an event, Alex wore “ugly” clothes from 1995 and embarrassed her.
The victim, played by sixth-grader Kamiah Salter, 11, said she had to seek counseling after the bullying incidents.
“I was nervous at first to play the part of the bullying victim, but I practiced it and it was fine,” she said. Kamiah, who has never been a victim of bullying in real life, said she wants to become a lawyer or surgeon when she grows up.
At the conclusion of the mock trial, Riordan, who said he attended the school when it was Bishop Borgess High School, applauded the students.
“That was an outstanding job,” said the Michigan Court of Appeals judge. “Congratulations to all of you. You all have great futures as lawyers. The most important advice I can give you is to read a lot. You all can be great trial lawyers if you want to do that. Read, read, read to expand your minds.”