One of the distinctives of a classical education is an emphasis on training in logic and rhetoric. Learning to think and speak well serves our students for their whole lives in whatever calling they pursue. A cadre of our Upper School students experienced a tour de force in these matters under the tutelage of two experienced U.S. attorneys who pioneered Covenant’s first ever Moot Court elective.
Gordon Zubrod was a captain in the Marine Corps before going on to serve over three decades as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and Senior Litigation Counsel for the Department of Justice. His career included the investigation and prosecution of organized crime, political corruption, human trafficking, money laundering, and complex white-collar crimes. He was joined by Stephen Cerutti, an Assistant State’s Attorney for the Middle District of PA who specializes in criminal appeals. He is also a father of a Covenant student.
Together they gave our students a 10 week course in constitutional law, trial procedure, rules of evidence, cross examination, and other facets of America’s legal system. Their razor sharp reasoning and decades of experience helped students to hone their logical skills as they prepared their cases.
The elective came to a dramatic conclusion on February 22nd when the students presented their cases before Chief Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson in his court at the Federal Building in Harrisburg. The students were dealt a difficult fact set fraught with constitutional and ethical challenges requiring careful reasoning and analysis. The facts were borne out of Zubrod and Cerutti’s many years of experience and imagination, giving the students a challenging yet true to life case to try. The students performed all of the major roles for the trial, serving as a prosecution team, defense team, and witnesses. (Then the roles were switched around for round two).
It was exciting to watch the students rise to the occasion, answering questions and responding to challenges before the gaze of the jurors (their parents and Head of School) and the formidable presence of Judge Carlson. The students acquitted themselves well. Judge Carlson went out of his way to complement their achievement in his closing remarks:
You should be very proud of the work you have done in this courtroom. The work you have collectively done vastly exceeds the quality of the work that I see from seasoned litigators on a daily basis. . . You have done an exceptional job of presenting very complex constitutional issues, and you and your families and the school should be very proud of the work you’ve done here.
The course also made a powerful impact on the students as they learned about the freedoms and rights we enjoy as citizens of our constitutional republic. One student remarked that,
It is so easy to distance oneself from the criminal activity that occurs very close to us all, and this elective made me realize how relevant our constitutional rights are and how important it is to understand the system dedicated to protecting the American citizens.
We are grateful that these students had such a wonderful experience through this elective this year.
Litigators Jason Bryce, Brett Montefour, and Ben Snyder deep in thought.