Lawyer helps students at Central York's mock trial

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch

While mock trial puts students in the hot seat, a former teacher turned education attorney is dipping back into instruction in hopes of better preparing students for the imitation trial and creating future lawyers in the process.

Stock and Leader partner Gareth Pahowka, center, speaks to opposing counsel, juniors Shakaib Tariq, left, and Curtis Dom, after a mock trial in which Pahowka presided as judge at Central York High School on Monday, Feb.19, 2018. Pahowka leads a law mentoring program at the school. Bill Kalina photo

Gareth Pahowka, a partner at the York-based law firm Stock and Leader, has been working with students at Central York High School almost weekly for the past four months as part of a law mentoring program he developed with district administrators last year.

Now in its second year, the law mentoring program has built on its premise to expose students to the law profession by reinforcing professional workforce skills such as public speaking and thinking on one's feet.

About 20 students participated in this year's mock trial, which had Pahowka serving as judge and district Superintendent Michael Snell observing as one of two jurors.

This year’s case revolved around negligence after a child was injured at a day care facility.

Students were given only raw data about the case and got their roles last month.

Pahowka, who regularly attends several York County school board meetings at districts represented by Stock and Leader, said he often misses working with students on a day-to-day basis, which led to his interest in volunteering for the program.

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Before pursuing law, Pahowka was a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at Gettysburg Middle School, where he taught civics and world cultures.

He never thought about law school while seeking his education degree, he said, but after about a year of teaching, the career interested him, and given his background, he naturally gravitated toward a focus on education law.

Pahowka said he wishes more civics education was included in public schools to teach students about many of the skills that are often provided through extracurricular activities.

"Some students participate in the debate team, but that's optional," he said. "Not every student (goes) through high school learning to grow in areas such as communication and public speaking."

Pahowka said resources such as Central York High School's Career Center provide students the opportunity to explore a wide range of career fields, including law.

Snell said having Pahowka volunteer his time over several months to help students in mock trial is "invaluable" for students and the career program overall.

"It opens doors for our students in our pre-apprenticeship program, and it also lets them decide whether a certain career field is something they want to pursue after graduation," Snell said.

After 40 minutes of fictitious testimony and cross examination, the jury of two came out in favor of the plaintiffs, who were seeking $50,000 in damages from the day care center for negligence.

The plaintiffs sprang up in joy and conversation while the team representing the day care appeared surprised and defeated.

Junior George Papageorgiou said even he was surprised his team won after junior Curtis Dom delivered a persuasive closing argument in defense of the day care facility.

Ellie Lamison, Central York High School's workforce readiness coordinator, said all students should feel good about their strong preparation and grit as they learned a great life lesson.

"You may feel like you're not quite ready," the high school's business liaison told students, "but in life, sometimes you just have to dive in even if you're not ready. Taking that chance will help you either way."