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The Park School wins state high school mock trial championship

The victorious Park School mock trial team, with, in red robes, Chief Court of Appeals Judge Joseph J. Getty and Judge Michele D. Hotten. (Submitted Photo)

The Park School in Pikesville defeated Cumberland’s Allegany High School on Monday to win the 2022 Maryland mock trial championship and earn the right to defend its national title later this year.

Park also won last year’s state championship by defeating River Hill High School of Clarksville. Park then went on to beat Iowa City High School for the 2021 national championship, which was held remotely out of Evansville, Indiana.

This year’s championship rounds will also be held remotely but out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, in May.

“I am over the moon,” Park’s coach, Tony Asdourian, said Tuesday. “It was a wonderful, wonderful trial against Allegany High School. We were fortunate to come out victors.”

Allegany’s coach, Brian White, praised his team for its “very close match” against a school on a run of championships.

“I was very proud of our team and how we stood toe to toe with them,” White said.

For two hours Monday afternoon, Park and Allegany students battled as “attorneys” and “witnesses” over whether the owner of a cabin that was the set of a horror film should be held liable for the death of a college freshman killed when he fell through a broken step leading to the basement.

Allegany, representing the “estate of Aaron Griggs,” argued that owner “Jodie Donahue” had essentially invited him — and other movies buffs — to visit the filming site of the “The Belair Witch Project” but breached her duty to ensure the cabin was safe for visitors, resulting in Griggs’ death.

Donahue had advertised the cabin on a website and on radio and sold maps to visitors at the former set, said Allegany student Emily Metheny in the “plaintiff’s” opening statement in the Maryland Court of Appeals courtroom in Annapolis.

“After purchasing a map for $20, the group was allowed free rein of the entire property,” Metheny told the “jury” and the presiding jurists, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty and Court of Appeals Judge Michele D. Hotten.

“He (Griggs) only made it down five stairs before the steps beneath his feet broke,” Metheny said. “Nineteen year old Aaron Griggs was touring a movie set. Yet because of Ms. Donahue’s negligence, it was the last thing he ever did.”

Park, pressing Donahue’s defense, countered the owner had expressly warned Griggs not to go down to the basement but that he had ignored the warning and assumed the risk of injury, even death, by taking the stairs.

“Ms. Donahue’s instructions were crystal clear: Do not enter the cabin,” said Park student Lindsay Reamer. “Everyone here today agrees that Mr. Griggs’ death was a tragedy. But Ms. Donahue cannot be held liable because the moment Mr. Griggs entered that cabin, the moment he trespassed, the moment he assumed the risk of injury, everything changed.”

Allegany’s Peyton McDonald and Park’s Isabella Otterbein then questioned “witnesses” from their own team and cross-examined witnesses from the opposition to support the schools’ conflicting positions regarding whether Donahue should be held liable for Griggs’ April 18, 2020, death at the property in “Chesapeake County.”

The Allegany student-witnesses were Ayden Leith, Brianna Palasik and Aralynn Teter. Margot Kohn, Sasha Lifchez and Daniel Perrin served as witnesses for Park at the championship round.

During the defense’s closing arguments, Park’s Aidan Connors focused on what she called “contradictions” in Allegany’s case.

“They claim Mr. Griggs had no idea the cabin was dangerous and (yet) they talk all day long about how he tested his weight on the stairs,” Connors said.

“There’s a reason, members of the jury, that the plaintiff has so many contradictions in their story, and it’s because their story just isn’t true,” Connors said. “The moment Mr. Griggs entered that cabin, he was a trespasser and the moment he entered that cabin he assumed the risk. That’s when everything changed.”

Arguing for the plaintiff, Allegany’s Kinsey Hostetler focused on the property’s “open gates” and Donahue’s “open invitations.”

Donahue produced “deliberate public ads urging visitors to explore a dangerous area,” Hostetler said. “Mr. Griggs accepted such an open business invitation and fell to his death on a set of poorly maintained stairs as a result of Donahue’s negligence.”

After the parties rested their cases, Getty praised the competitors and said that Park had won the “very close” competition.

“In many cases it was like you were having a conversation with the court, and if you’ve been able to do a conversation with the court that means you are also doing a conversation with the jury and that’s how you’re effective in … the key point in the case, which is persuasion, persuading the jury that you’ve got the stronger case,” Getty said.

Hotten also praised the competitors and offered them advice.

“Advocacy, in my experience, is the art of persuasion,” Hotten said.

“Your art of persuasion will go as far as you believe in your ability and yourselves because each person in this room has the skillset to persuade and you work on that and you hone the talent and you prepare and you organize — but if you don’t believe that you have the ability you will go nowhere,” Hotten added. “Believe in yourself because there is no limit to what you can do and don’t accept ‘no.’”

Attorneys Daniel Moore and Sara Arthur assisted Getty and Hotten in scoring the competition.

The annual MYLaw High School Mock Trial Competition, which began in 1983, is sponsored by the Baltimore-based Maryland Youth & the Law, a nonprofit organization that backs programs to teach students about the law and judicial system.