Elementary school students from across Williamsburg packed William & Mary Law School’s high-tech courtroom Nov. 2 to watch fairy tale characters pursue justice in a trial between Prince Charming and Don Pieman.
Fourth and fifth graders from five local schools attended the fractured fairy tale trial, and served as jury members. The one-hour trial introduced the students to fundamental legal concepts, such as liability, the burden of proof, and the roles of counsel, jury and judge.
The event was organized by the Center for Legal & Courtroom Technology (CLCT), a public service organization at William & Mary. This is the second consecutive year that CLCT has performed a fairy tale trial with local students serving as the jury.
“A large part of CLCT’s mission involves education,” said Christine Williams, CLCT’s Associate Director for Research, Entrepreneurship & Professional Education. “We view this exercise as an entertaining and informative way to assist local schools with civics instruction.”
The case involves Prince Charming, a handsome beast, and Don Pieman, the owner of a magical factory that allegedly polluted the kingdom’s drinking water. Charming sued Pieman, claiming that contaminated water caused him to turn from a beast back into a normal man. Charming argued that the transformation led to his break-up with fiancee Princess Catherine and the loss of a reality show contract.
The students had to decide whether Pieman’s factory polluted the drinking water, and was therefore liable for damages.
After weighing the evidence, the students delivered their verdict. A slim majority of students held that Pieman was not liable for damages to Charming.
CLCT chose the fairy tale format because it is an entertaining way to introduce elementary student to complex legal ideas.
“They’re learning without realizing it because they’re being entertained. And who doesn’t love a fairy tale?” said W&M law student and CLCT fellow Greg Marinelli, who played Rumpelstiltkin.
Though showcasing courtroom technology was not the trial’s focus, CLCT exposed the students to digital evidence and other high-tech features of the McGlothlin Courtroom.
For example, during Prince Charming’s testimony, the plaintiff’s attorney submitted electronic evidence of what Charming looked like when he was still a beast. The students erupted into giggles when a snapshot of a furry, yet handsome beast, was displayed on flat-screen monitors across the courtroom.
During a discussion after the trial, many students said they came down in favor of Pieman because they believed Pieman’s employee, Rumpelstiltkin, actually polluted the water.
The attorney for Prince Charming said that Charming plans to appeal on the grounds the judge delivered faulty jury instructions when he failed to tell the jury that an employer can be liable for the actions of its employees.
Meanwhile, teachers plan to use the fractured fairy tale trial to teach their students real world lessons about the court system.
Due to high interest from local schools, CLCT is putting on an encore performance for fifth and sixth graders from Providence Classical School on Nov. 14.
–Liz Barry, Fellow for the Center for Legal and Courtroom Technology