When D.C. Superior Court Judge William Pryor stopped the adoption last week of a year-old child named Eric, the baby's father did not hug his attorneys, nor were there tears from the opposing side.
Instead, the crowded courtroom filled with applauses, as attorneys, respondents, petitioners and witnesses went before the judge.
The courtroom was packed with District high school students, who watched as representatives of their schools participated in the D.C. Street Law Project's mock trial rpogram at Georgetown Law School.
The students, who acted as attorneys and witnesses, volunteered for the program, which is designed to teach practical law to high school students.
The mock trial, jointly sponsored by D.C. public schools and the Georgetown University Law Center, began with remarks by Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who emphasized the importance of learning practical law.
After the case was heard and the ruling made, D.C. Superintendant Vincent E. Reed, beaming with a smile, hugged participants and told students: "There were no losers in today's competition. It has been fierce. The presentations made me proud."
In the past, the mock trial has been the climax of practical law courses in a number of District high schools. Schools competed with each other in heats, with two schools chosen to meet in the final, two-hour trial at Georgetown. This year, however, the teachers' strike made it impossible for schools to compete with each other because some school held classes and others did not, according to program spokeswoman Patricia McGuire. "It meant that some students were able to practice while others were not," she said.
The solution, McGuire said, was an "all-star" trial with volunteers from all District high schools. As a result, nearly 20 students got their day in court learning the elements of trial procedure.
In this case, Eric's mother, Angela Bryant, and her new husband, Darryl, had asked the court to allow Darryl to adopt Eric despite objections from the father, George Hayes.
Hayes, played by Ernest Duberry, of Anacostia High School, contended Darryl could not provide for Eric's financial needs since he was not employed, and that the (Hayes) should continue as the legal father so he could look out for Eric's interests.
Duberry, who said he worked hours preparing for the role, noted, "It was in Eric's best interest for the petition (for adoption) to be denied. He should not be given up to a father with no future."
Duberry's counterpart, the "father with no future," was played by Thornton Harrison, of Spingarn High School. Harrison said he tried to argue that there was more to a relationship than being able to provide financially for the child, and that love was very important.
When Judge Pryor made his ruling, he told the students he would deny the petition for adoption, but would consider another petition a year later when the make-believe family was more stable. Pryor's ruling meant that the child's biological parents would share custody.
The reaction of students was favourable. "It was a compassionate ruling," said one student.Judge Pryor was really fair to both sides."
Joseph Kennedy, who played Hayes' attorney, said he was not worried about the decision because "the case was leaning toward us."
Most of the students who participated in the program did not necessarily intend to pursue law as a career.
One student, however, Gregory Burnette, a 17-year-old from the Duke Ellington High School of Performing Arts, siad he planned to become an electrical engineer before taking the course, but now he is seriously considering law.
Gwendolyn Mitchell, 18, who attends the Washington Career Center for Practical Nursing, played the part of the lawyer representing the Bryants. In remarks to the press, Mitchell, like any "real" lawyer, said she felt her side should have won the case.
Mitchell said she got involved in the high school program because "I thought it would be exciting and it was."
Nearly all the students said they hoped their performance was smooth and professional, to show, as one student put it, that District high school students "can become lawyers just like anyone else."
Eric Ellerbe, a student at Eastern High School who acted as an attorney for Hayes, summed up some of the feelings: "This just goes to show there are some intelligent students at Eastern."
Then Ellerbe turned to a friend and explained there was yet another ruling to be heard in this case.
"Now I dread going home," he said, "and listening to my parents (who attended thr trial) and listening to their criticism." CAPTION: Picture 1, 'Attorney' Linda Thorne of Coolidge High School presents arguments to Superior Court Judge William Pryor.; Picture 2, Joseph Kennedy of Woodson High School, at microphone, who acted as an attorney, saw that "the case was leaning toward us." Photos by James Thresher-The Washington Post