Judging parents: Furman’s mock trial program and its enthusiastic parent support

At Furman, mock trial is serious business. The university’s program joined the American Mock Trial Association in 1995 and regularly competes (and often wins) against teams like Harvard, Davidson, and Chicago. With four or five teams of six to nine students each year, Furman almost always fields an award-winning and nationally ranked team.

In late March, Furman hosted the Carol N. Ney National Mock Trial Tournament on campus. And while the tradition of excellence continued with a Furman team qualifying for the American Mock Trial National Championships to be held in the coming week, one special tradition carried on for a unique set of Furman parents – the parents who judge.

Each year, parents of current students in the legal profession volunteer to serve as judges for the Ney tournament. This year, 14 current parents volunteered. They come from as close as a few miles from campus and as far away as Las Vegas to participate in the experience. But after their child graduates, many stick around for years to participate, including six this year.

Thomas Martin is one such parent, an attorney at McNair Law Firm specializing in economic development and municipal law. Martin’s eldest son, Scott, attended Furman and graduated in 2001, the first year Glen Halva-Neubauer, director of Furman Mock Trial and Dana Professor of political science, asked him to help. “Scott joined the team late in his Furman career and it encouraged him to add a political science major to his degree that he completed in a year – and he is now an attorney,” Martin said.

“I felt an obligation to Furman since they took such great care of Scott and also an obligation to the legal profession. We are only as good as our next generation,” he added. Twelve years later, Martin is still volunteering. “I have friends who volunteer with me every year. They drive from all over to be here and it is always an excellent experience. It is refreshing to see the talent of our students.”

Paul Kaleta, parent of graduating senior, Christine, made the trek from Las Vegas to volunteer for the first time this year. Kaleta serves as general counselor for NV Energy, Inc. and teaches energy law and business ethics on the side.

“I love working with students so when the opportunity arose, I was excited to participate and ultimately surprised by how many people volunteered – even a parent without a student at Furman who drove up from Myrtle Beach to help,” he said. Kaleta remarked at the high level of competition, “I don’t think I would have been able to do all that these students do at such a young age.” He hopes to attend in future years, even after Christine graduates.

The secret to parent interest in remaining involved? Kaleta says the experience is extremely comfortable, organized, and as a current parent, “the perfect opportunity to have dinner with my daughter.”