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Legal arguments, finely tuned

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Legal arguments, finely tuned

A closing argument at Saturday’s regional mock trial competition in Saratoga Springs was so good tha
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A closing argument at Saturday’s regional mock trial competition in Saratoga Springs was so good that the judge thanked the high school attorney.

Notre Dame Bishop Gibbons School Junior Steven Baldwin had moved with a comfortable ease in the makeshift courtroom in the City Center, where he delivered remarks honed through months of practice. He glanced sparingly at his note pad, instead making eye contact with witnesses or the judge. His hands played with the buttons of his suit coat, waved in front of him to articulate a point or held up evidence.

Saratoga County Family Court Judge Courtenay Hall, overseeing the case, described the argument as excellent and cut Baldwin off when he tried to thank him. “No, thank you,” said Hall.

But the argument wasn’t enough for Baldwin’s team to fend off the team from Potsdam High School in the semifinals of the New York State High School Mock Trial Region III Championship.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas D. Nolan Jr., who oversaw the finals on Saturday, said the competitors at this point in the competition are skilled lawyers. “Every year the level gets higher and higher.”

The level of competition was a surprise to the first-timers who came to watch Saratoga Central Catholic High School Senior Kevin Kortright, lawyer for his team. “They don’t know what to expect,” he said of the courtroom drama, which has high school students making objections before real judges.

Despite the students’ skills, Hall still found opportunities to educate. He explained what might happen if certain objections were made in real life, before making rulings within the confines of the mock trial rules.

This year’s regional winner was last year’s regional runner up, the team from Saratoga Central Catholic High School.

The win sets a high bar next year for Central Catholic Junior Madeline Pelagalli, 16, the only one of the three lawyers for her team that will be returning. “I have a lot of pressure for next year,” she said before the finals.

For her, the attraction of the mock trial experience is that the teammates become like family. They spend all day in class together and then hours in the evening too.

Another plus, Pelagalli added, is the legal lingo they pick up. “There are so many words on the SATs that I recognize from mock trial that is amazing,” she said. “A lot of legal words, like conjecture.”

This was the fourth year of competition for Kortright, the son of Washington County DA Kevin Kortright. He doesn’t have any immediate plans to follow in his father’s footsteps, though, saying he wants to study computer science.

Despite Bishop Gibbons early exit this year, Baldwin said the sting was lessened by the fact his team won the regional championship last year.

“I will continue to do mock trial again,” he said. “It would be wonderful to get back to this level.”

There were eight teams competing in the regional competition, including the Amsterdam High School. State finals are May 20 and 21 at the Foley Federal Courthouse in Albany.

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