Legal Action

Should doctors be allowed to help patients end their lives?  That’s the question being presented in a mock trial to a group of students in the Honors Pre-Law Program at American Heritage School in Plantation.  Former Broward County prosecutor Ken Padowitz, director of the program, is setting up a portable courtroom for the trial in which students play the roles of judge, prosecutor, witnesses, jury and defense attorney.

In the case before the future lawyers, a doctor has been accused of helping a severely ill patient commit suicide. A witness overheard a telephone conversation between the doctor and the patient’s son. The son may have urged the doctor to help his father commit suicide. An added twist: The son stands to benefit from an inheritance after his father dies.

“I was a jury member and a prosecutor,” said Barkins, 15 of Cooper City. “This was a good experience.”

The mock trial will continue for the next several weeks at American Heritage. Eventually Padowitz plans to invite students from throughout the school to watch the trial.

That’s a good idea according to Oleg Zakatov, who likes studying law but thinks many people misunderstand it.

“I think a lot of people are afraid of the law. They don’t realize that the government is very limited and we have many freedoms,” Zakatov said.

That’s the kind of talk Padowitz likes to hear from his students.

“The pre-law program we’re developing is an excellent way to help high school students learn about our court system,” he said. “It is not meant to be a law school but I do want to excite students about the justice system and the practice of law.”

Eventually, Padowitz hopes to enter American Heritage pre-law students into the Florida High School Mock Trial Competition. Each year, schools are given a legal case and all competitions throughout the state are based on that case, Padowitz said.

During the first day of the trial, students took turns sitting on the jury, questioning witnesses as a prosecutor, answering questions as a witness and acting as judge.

“Students are learning trial advocacy by practicing direct examination of a witness,” Padowitz said. “The questions are designed to be nonleading. The students are learning how to behave in a courtroom and how to elicit testimonial evidence.”

The pre-law students appreciate the chance to gain hands-on experience.

Ashley Yager was a prosecutor in the mock trial.

“I was able to do a direct examination on the doctor,” said Yager, 15, of Davie. “I wanted the jury to see the relationship between the doctor and the victim’s son.”

Gillian Barkins, looking forward to a career as a lawyer, said the experience and help this program offers her is invaluable.

January 14, 2004|By David Volz Special Correspondent

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