By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO January 29, 2002 It seemed like an average day at the Sullivan County Courthouse.
Upstairs, lawyers were arguing the merits of allowing a middle school student to give a speech at graduation that might incite a riot.
Downstairs, investigators were pouring over the evidence of a murder perpetrated in the downstairs bathroom.
But this wasnt a regular day at the office for the folks who work at the courthouse. It was Saturday, and the lawyers and policemen were gone.
In their stead were students from seven different county school districts the competitors in the newest Sullivan County Interacademic League (SCIL) meet.
The brainchild of Eldred teacher Nancy Kane and husband New York State Supreme Court Judge Anthony Kane, Saturdays SCIL competition was the third this year, and for some students the most exciting.
A lot of kids are interested in the law and different cases, explained Nancy Kane.
The teens were invited into the courthouse to try their hand at the different aspects of the law.
A few members of each team were given the chance to argue a case in front of three judges: Anthony Kane, and Sullivan County Court judges Frank LaBuda and Burton Ledina.
One student argued the pros of allowing a middle school student to give a graduation speech without cutting passages suggested by the principal.
A teammate then had to present her rebuttal, attempting to convince the judges that the students speech could do more harm than good.
Both were under heavy scrutiny from the judges, who questioned their reasons for being pro or con. The students were expected to have previous court cases to use in defense of their issue.
Other students got the chance to dress up as a juvenile law judge and explain to District Attorney Stephen Lungen and Colleen Cunningham, attorney for the Department of Family Services, their reasoning for ruling on a certain case.
Another section of each eight-person team spent time investigating the law library in the courthouse, answering a list of questions to earn points for their team.
What we try to do is give them a broad range of items to research, explained Mary Grace Conneely, a Supreme Court law clerk who put together the questions for the meet.
We try to get them acclimated to our library and to a broad range of cases from criminal to civil.
Joanna Dicostanza of the Sullivan West/Delaware Valley team got the chance to study in the law libary during the competition, and she said it was a lot of fun.
The experience may have guided her into a law career, she added.
But what may have been the most exciting competition of the day was the crime scene in the mens bathroom.
Set up by Carl Amaditz, a retired FBI agent from Forestburgh, the scene was complete with a dead baby, a cigarette butt in the toilet as evidence and police tape.
This is really interesting, said Nancy Kane.
I think the adults here might be even more excited about it than the kids, she added with a laugh.
After examining the scene and taking Polaroid snapshots, the students got a chance to spend time in a mock crime lab, examining spots of blood under a microscope and checking out the origin of fingerprints.
The remainder of the students on the team spent their morning at the courthouse completing a presentencing investigation.
The students got the chance to interview a young offender and determine whether they should be treated as an adult or a child.
This competition, with its variety of activities, seemed to be among the more popular SCIL meets.
I dont think weve done anything like this before, said Margaret Norden of the Sullivan West/ Delaware Valley team.
The organizers try to make sure each competition is different to test students different strengths.
This particular SCIL introduced students not only to the law, but to the courthouse, Kane said.
They had to enter the building through the metal detector, she said, and not only were the judges for the competition on hand, but security, janitors and other courthouse staff agreed to work Saturday morning to help the competition come together.
I think this one was put together well, said Jeremy Brinn, a member of Liberty High Schools team.
Its less of a competition between schools, added Jonathan Crowley, also a Liberty team member. You didnt get to see the other schools compete, so it was more of a test for yourself.
The competition tied in well with current events, said Jaycob Burns of Liberty.
I like how it ties in with the current situation of constitutional rights with free speech and the airplanes, he explained.
Monticellos team came in first with 200 points for their presentations to the judges.
Fallsburg was second with 199 points, followed by Tri-Valley in third with 198 points and Sullivan West/Delaware Valley in fourth with 197 points. Libertys team was fifth with 194 points.
The overall standings for SCIL Senior are now:
Monticello, first place, 591 points.
Tri-Valley, second place, 571 points.
Eldred, third place, 559 points.
Liberty, fourth place, 558 points.
Roscoe, fifth place, 537 points.