NYU’s mock trial team invests in the world of fictional cases and courts, but earlier this month they were notified of a very real issue with their annual invitational, The Downtown: it had no place to be held. Due to the government shutdown, the courthouse where they traditionally hosted the competition canceled all extraneous events planned after Jan. 18.
The Downtown is the last invitational of the season and is attended by schools such as Harvard, Cornell and just under 20 other universities nationwide who have top-tier mock trial teams. Schools essentially simulate a trial and are judged based on how well they present their arguments, statements and testimonies.
On Jan. 10, CAS junior and mock trial team president Lindsey China received a call notifying her that the Southern District of the New York Federal Courthouse could not count on the government reopening before events planned after Jan. 18. Although the government shutdown has since ended, The Downtown was canceled nonetheless.
“The initial reaction is one of shock; you don’t expect this to happen,” China said. “Then it becomes ‘is there any way to get around canceling this altogether?’”
Due to NYU’s payment process and the extreme time constraint — The Downtown was set to occur on Jan. 26 and 27 — the team was not able to relocate. Preparations for the event began six months earlier, in June.
Although, traditionally, the Vice President of the team would assist in the preparation of the event, team member and GLS senior Chehak Gogia was recruited to help coordinate The Downtown this year. Gogia, along with China, negotiated with vendors, lined up catering and recruited real-life judges and attorneys for the event to judge the teams.
Gogia said she had not expected to help coordinate but was more than willing due to her love for the event.
“I was really looking forward to [running] the tournament and it’s kind of awesome to see all of these people,” Gogia said. “We absolutely love having it at the courthouse because it’s a fantastic opportunity for us, as wannabe attorneys, to have that experience.”
After confirming that the event would have to be canceled, the executive board of the mock trial team reached out to other schools — many of which had already bought plane tickets to attend — to tell them the bad news.
CAS senior and travel coordinator for the team William Hendon said that teams were not happy when they heard.
“They were reasonably upset, and I expect them to be,” Hendon said. “We had teams from California coming over and one girl told me ‘we got 5,000 dollars in flight costs that we can’t refund.’”
Fortunately, The Ohio State University and Rhodes College ended up hosting a mock trial scrimmage at Brooklyn Law School. Teams were able to attend the scrimmage instead of The Downtown, though it was not in a courthouse setting and was not an officially sanctioned invitational.
Gogia said the team’s reputation still suffered from cancelation because some teams were frustrated with their inability to relocate. Gogia said she was upset when she found out that her work had been for nothing, but also found a certain irony in the situation.
“I actually thought it was so funny — well, not in a great way funny — but for me, I am a politics major and my life outside of mock trial is very much involved in what’s going on in D.C., what’s going on in the country,” Gogia said. “It seemed incredibly ironic that [the government shutdown] was affecting my fake life as well as my real life.”
Email Victor Porcelli at [email protected]