Introducing the 2016 Season: Part 1

A Pre-Trial Twist

Hello, Empire Family!!!! It’s Sydney Franklin, your Empire Emcee, here to give you a sneak peak at the 2016 Empire season, which will feature some EXCITING changes. For the first preview, I sat down with Justin Matarrese, Empire’s Executive Director, to see if he’d give us the scoop on a new competition twist.

Justin, my sources told me that there are some big changes for Empire in 2016. Is this true?

By sources you mean me, Sydney?

Yes. *Laughs* Are you going to tell us what’s in store for 2016?
Partly. You’ll have to until wait next week for everything.

You know I’m not very patient; what are you willing to share now?
Well, Empire New York is moving to Times Square. The trials are still in Brooklyn at the federal court but teams will staying right in Times Square, just a few feet away from where the New Year’s ball drops. It’s such a great location.

We’re also making two major competition changes. I will tell you about the first today.

Really?  Are you going to go all mock trial and make me ask a follow-up question?
Of course.

You said a moment ago that you will tell us about the first major change… please share with the Empire community… what is that change?
Kudos on the looping, Sydney.

*Eye roll*

We’re adding a pre-trial component. Some states (like California and Washington) have it already and we’re really excited for this.

Wow, how will that work?
It will take place right before the trial starts.

A pre-trial that takes place before trial! How revolutionary!
Watch yourself, Franklin.

Please, I don’t mean to interrupt. Continue….
One student from each team will argue a motion in limine—a motion filed by a party to a case asking the court to limit (or exclude) certain evidence from being presented by the other side. The judge’s ruling will impact the rest of the trial. So if the judge rules that a particular piece of evidence is not admissible, it may not be offered at trial.

Okay, I have a few questions— What happens during this argument? And will the judges ask questions?
For most of the time, yes. Students will have 3 minutes to present their argument uninterrupted but after that the presiding judge will ask questions—they will be instructed to do so.

And if they ask a question that a team isn’t prepared for?
That would be unfortunate for the student. The student needs to really understand their argument. Since responding to questions will be part of the exercise, we expect students to prepare for pre-trial by answering questions from their coaches and peers on the topic. Real lawyers can’t rehearse every contingency, neither will our pre-trial attorneys.

So, how long do teams have to make their argument?
Up to 10 minutes. The moving party (the side that raises the motion) will also be able to reserve their remaining time for rebuttal.

In the past, trials could last up to 3 hours. Does this mean that trials are longer now?
It does. We’ll be adding an extra 30 minutes to our “all-loss” time so teams will have 3.5 hours to complete their trials.

That’s a whole lot of mock trial!

Okay. What type of materials will students be given to prepare their arguments?
The case materials will have everything.

Which will include…
The exhibit that’s at issue, the motion in limine raised by the moving party, the other side’s response to the motion, a list of relevant cases, and the criteria that judges will use to evaluate their performance.

Got it. So let me make sure I get this straight (both for me and the competitors)—we’re requiring teams to argue BEFORE the trial starts whether ONE exhibit in the case is admissible…

Oh, I’m not done.

  • We’re giving teams the exhibit and some cases to look at to prep their argument
  • Each side will get 10 minutes to make their argument
  • 3 minutes of that time is uninterrupted but after that point they can be questioned by the judge
  • The moving party goes first
  • The judge makes a ruling AFTER the arguments that MAY impact whether that exhibit is allowed at trial.

Am I on the right track?
Yes, actually.

So what happens after the argument is over?
Both sides take 5 minutes to chat about the impact of the court’s ruling and then you start with housekeeping matters (introductions, etc).

Got it. One thing we haven’t discussed—which of the attorneys is making the argument? The one not opening or closing?
We’re adding a fourth attorney, actually.

Yes, there will be a fourth attorney who will be assigned to do pre-trial.

Talk about a plot twist. So this is going to be like they do it in Cali, right? My friends from the West Coast tell me that their competition has a pre-trial attorney who can ONLY do pre-trial—nothing else.
No, our rules are different. Here’s a brief summary. An attorney can’t perform more than one speech (pre-trial, opening, closing) and the middle attorney (the one not giving a speech) is required to do one direct and one cross. The rest of the directs and crosses will be divided among the three speech giving attorneys with one caveat: you can’t have an attorney perform more than one direct or more than one cross.

Sound confusing? It’s not.   And, here’s what your lineup will look like:

A = Attorney              Speech = Pre-trial, Opening, Closing

A1 – Speech, Direct and Cross
A2 – Speech, Direct or Cross
A3 – Speech, Cross or Direct
Middle – Direct and Cross

It’s up to you to determine which student delivers which statement and which examination(s) (i.e. A1 can be the pre-trial, opener or closer in the above diagram).

Interesting. Well, tell me this—what’s the logic for adding an attorney and for dividing the speeches in the way you just proposed?
We want to more inclusive. We like the idea of adding an attorney to the competition and a student to the roster. That means the minimum number of competitors per team is now 7.

Regarding the role assignments, we started by saying that we don’t want the middle to be excluded. So, the middle had to get two examinations (direct/cross). We then said that we don’t want to have a direct or cross specialist—i.e. one attorney can’t do two directs or two crosses. Everything else then fell into place.

How is Empire going to make sure that teams are prepared for pre-trial because, don’t get me wrong, this sounds very exciting, but also a bit complicated?
Great question. We’re going to provide a sample pre-trial argument for all participants: both written materials and a video of Empire staff (or alums) arguing it (we’re still finalizing the details).   We’ll also offer a couple of pre-trial webinars to answer questions.

Perfect. So we’re getting short on time here and I need to wrap up; one final question for you: After nine seasons of successful Empires, why? Why make such a drastic change? And why pre-trial?
Let me start by saying that we’re always trying to improve the experience that we provide for students. It doesn’t matter how many years we’re around, that will never change.

There are two reasons we’re adding pre-trial. First, it’s a crucial element of actual trial practice in the U.S. So many issues that arise in mock trial are actually dealt with in pre-trial. Adding pre-trial makes our trials more realistic and introduces many students to a new aspect of the legal system.

Second, it provides the type of intellectual rigor for students that we feel is necessary for our competition to be a success tool for educational growth and development. Pre-trial attorneys will have to engage with difficult material, synthesize it, and be able to present it effectively to their judges. When judges question them, they’ll also be required to argue extemporaneously—something that we want to continue to emphasize with our programs.

We think this is a huge change for Empire and we can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Well, I have to say I’m jealous! I wish I could go back and compete. Thank you, Justin, for taking some time to talk about these new changes.

I don’t know about y’all, but I am ready for 2016! And if you aren’t, buckle up; it’s going to be a wild ride.


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