Judge Stan Eller presided over a mock trial conducted by these MES students on Wednesday. Did Yertle the Turtle prevail? (Photo: Vane)
Family and friends gathered this Wednesday at the Mono County Superior Court in the Sierra Center Mall for a trial more fun than most—the case of Sadie v. Yertle the Turtle. The mock trial was part of the GATE afterschool program, led by Mammoth Elementary teachers Judy Burgenbauch and Leigh Ann Battista, and included eleven students, grades 3-5. Prior to the trial, students learned how our judicial system works, then planned their opening and closing statements as well as their direct questions. Their cross examination questions and answers had to be made up on the spot.
Presiding Judge Stan Eller was on hand to hear the case, which was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book, Yertle the Turtle. The plaintiff’s attorneys (Hayley Moss and Lucas Strazzere) made their arguments first: King Yertle the Turtle (Tanner Bissonette) had “abused his rights of authority” at the expense of his turtle subjects, particularly Sadie (Sophia McKee), by ordering them to form a stack of over 200 turtles to scout for any predators approaching turtle pond. As a direct result of the stacking, Sadie suffered a cracked shell. Therefore she deserved to have her medical expenses paid by Yertle.
Defense attorneys (Alexia Craven and Ari Schuldt) argued against Yertle’s liability, claiming that he only had “the safety of the kingdom” in mind when he ordered the stack, and that this practice of stacking has kept the kingdom a “clean, safe, family friendly environment” for twenty five years. No turtle has ever suffered from the stacking before, defense pointed out. It was quite possible Sadie sustained her injury before she ever took part in the stack.
Plaintiff’s and defense attorneys presented evidence to the court—including an x-ray of Sadie’s cracked shell, and the medical license of Dr. Lizard (Sasha Mueller) of Lizard University—as well as cross-examining a multitude of witnesses. Among those who took the stand were Sally Snapper (Stella Anderson), Mackenzie (Hannah Linaweaver), Dr. Sam (Charlie Regelbrugge), a turtle expert, and Prince Frank Flycatcher (Thomas Graham).
Sadie herself took the stand, heavily bandaged and limping, to testify to the cruelty of the king. When asked to grade the pain of her cracked shell on a scale from one to ten, she said, “Eleven.”
Yertle, who testified later, professed his only desire in ordering the stack was to keep his subjects safe. In fact, he was at the greatest risk of any turtle, since he chose to place himself at the top of the stack. Yet when asked by the plaintiff’s attorneys whether he would have liked being in the middle of the stack, he admitted, “Not a lot.” When asked if he would have liked being on the bottom, he said, “I wouldn’t have liked it at all.”
Plaintiff’s attorneys pressed their advantage: “Will you pay for Sadie’s medical expenses?” they asked. Yertle buckled: “Yes.” Then he quickly amended, ”Never mind. I wouldn’t.”
The trial, which began at 3:00, concluded at 4:30 with closing statements from the plaintiff’s and defense attorneys. The jury voted and by majority found Yertle the Turtle liable for Sadie’s injury. Judge Eller added that damages would be determined at a later hearing.
Students from both parties of the case left the courtroom elated by the proceedings. “This class was offered to GATE and high achieving students at Mammoth Elementary School to challenge and enrich their education beyond what goes on in the classroom,” said Judy Burgenbauch. “Part of the philosophy of gifted education is getting gifted kids together to experience synergy and to learn to work together with other gifted students. The Mock Trial really gives them this opportunity.”