PORTLAND, Maine — The Hampden Academy mock trial team won its ninth state championship in 10 years Thursday when it defeated Sanford High School’s team.
The Hampden team will go on to compete in the national contest in Philadelphia in May.
But this year’s final may have been the swan song for the Mock Trial Program in Maine.
The Maine State Bar Association, which has been the sole funding source for the program for the past five years, announced earlier this year that it would not fund the program in 2010.
The association’s finance committee and board of governors “made some very difficult decisions in the last budget cycle,” Julie Rowe, executive director of the bar association, told the Portland Press Herald in November. She said staff hours had been cut, and a vacant position had not been filled.
“It’s not because [the bar association doesn’t] believe in the value of the program,” Rowe said. “It’s really a matter of shrinking resources and competing priorities. We simply can’t afford to be the sole funder of this program any longer.”
Until 2004, the program was funded by a coalition of the bar association and other organizations, according to Rowe.
The current budget of the Mock Trial Program was not available late Thursday.
The schools pay a fee to participate, a stipend to their coaches and the cost of transportation to matches. The expense of mailing the cases to teams was eliminated several years ago because of the increased use of e-mail, Hampden coach James McCarthy said recently.
Efforts over the summer and fall to solicit “adopt a team” donations did not generate much response, Rowe said.
Julie Finn, who coordinates the Mock Trial Program, said in a December bar association newsletter that “there is time to raise funds and awareness before May 1, the date that I start planning the program for the year.”
Suggestions have included a “Friends of Mock Trial” group and seeking help from the county bar associations, which are loosely affiliated with the state bar association.
Winning the state contest year after year has been a source of pride in Hampden. It is one of 22 schools that took part in the program this year.
Matches began in early November and ended with Thursday’s final. Coaches and students began reading case materials and practicing in September.
This year’s fictional case was a criminal trial. The defendant was accused of planting a bomb at Stephen King High School in Castle Rock, a town in Carrie County, Maine. Students played defendant, witnesses, prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Each match consisted of two trials. In one, a team acted as the prosecution and in the other, as the defense. Then the teams switched sides. The Mock Trial Program has rules of evidence and rules of procedure students must follow similar to those lawyers must abide by in court.
Panels of real judges act as judges in the competitions and rule on objections and points of law. In the end, they do not render a verdict but decide which team presented the better case.
Thursday’s final was held in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Edward T. Gignoux Federal Courthouse. U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Louis Kornreich of Bangor presided over the competition.
Hampden Academy coach William Devoe wasn’t focused on the future of the program Thursday evening as he headed home with an another victory for his team.
“It was a very hard-fought round,” he said. “Sanford did a lot of wandering outside the case materials, but our kids held steady.”