Fifth Grade Jurors Reach Verdict at Cinderella Trial

  • Fairy Tale Trial
    Fairy Tale Trial  Law students who helped stage the mock proceedings for local fifth graders included, from left, Bailey Woolfstead (Defense Counsel), Adele Young (Gretel), Michelle Sudano (Fairy Godmother), Melanie Fradette (Cinderella's stepmother), Nandor Kiss (Prince Charming), and Janet Sully (Cinderella). Rhianna Shabsin, far right, the Roger Strand CLCT Postgraduate Fellow, served as the Plantiff's Counsel.  Photos by Jaime Welch-Donahue
  • Called as Witnesses
    Called as Witnesses  Gretel (Adele Young, J.D. '14) and Prince Charming (Nandor Kiss, J.D.'14) were called to testify during the trial.  
  • The Fairy Godmother
    The Fairy Godmother  The Fairy Godmother (Michelle Sudano, J.D. '13) said that Cinderella did not dream happy dreams after the ball.  
  • The Plaintiff
    The Plaintiff  Cinderella's stepmother (Melanie Fradette, J.D. '13), at right, and her attorney (played by Rhianna Shabsin, the Roger Stand CLCT Fellow) were a formidable duo in the mock trial.  
  • The Defendent
    The Defendent  Cinderella (Janet Sully, J.D.'14), at right, needed the help of her counsel (Bailey Woolfstead, J.D. '12) during the mock libel trial.  
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"Cinders in My Eyes" Memoir Lands Fairy Tale Princess in Law School's Courtroom

A mock libel trial of Cinderella staged by William & Mary law students on Nov. 10 had a happy ending for the fairy tale princess, thanks to the verdict reached by fifth graders from Clara Byrd Baker, Matoaka, and Rawls Byrd elementary schools who visited the Law School's McGlothlin Courtroom to take part in the proceedings. 

Cinderella (Janet Sully, J.D. '14) and the memoir that landed her in court.The young jurors had to decide if Cinderella (played by first-year law student Janet Sully '14) told the truth about her stepmother in her memoir "Cinders in My Eyes."  Her stepmother (Melanie Fradette, J.D. '13) alleged that Cinderella made up stories about her in order to get on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and to stay in the public eye.

In the end, most of the youngsters decided that Cinderella told the truth in her book and was not guilty of libel.

"Our goal in trying these fairy tale cases is to make clear to youngsters that courts exist to settle disputes and that our trial process is a fair one that depends on the public," said Chancellor Professor of Law Fredric Lederer, Director of the Center for Legal and Court Technology, a joint program of the Law School and the National Center for State Courts.  Lederer has staged a number of similar mock trials over the past 25 years with the help of his students that drew on youngsters' familiarity with stories such as "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "Jack and the Beanstalk."

"By sitting as jurors, youngsters understand their personal importance in the judicial process," he said.

At the recent trial, the fifth graders were sworn in as jurors and heard opening and closing arguments prepared by attorneys for the plaintiff and for the defendant. Fairy tale characters played by law students answered questions under oath about Cinderella, who had donned a sequined dress for her day in court.

Sporting a gold metal headband/crown, Prince Charming (Nandor Kiss, J.D. '14) told the court that his relationship with Cinderella "fizzled out" after the ball because she did not share his passion for video games and because she sometimes acted "kind of bossy." (The monarch-in-the-making was later gently admonished by Judge Lederer to refrain from waving to his subjects.) In a delicate voice that seemed capable of conjuring up glass slippers, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother (Michelle Sudano, J.D. '13) testified that she became concerned after the ball was over when the princess had sad dreams about no longer being "the most important person in the kingdom."

Jurors may have been greatly affected by testimony given by Gretel (Adele Young, J.D. '14), who held a basket in the crook of her arm throughout the proceedings (and who left a trail of candy behind her as she approached the witness stand).

Cinderella's stepmother, Gretel testified, was none other than the evil witch who had tried to eat her and her brother Hansel.

"It was really wonderful.  The kids just loved it," said Robb Ponton, a Rawls Byrd teacher. "I told Professor Lederer to get another one ready.  We'll be back next year."

Students in Ponton's class have already written rough drafts of their own fairy tale trials.  The trial process, said Ponton, encourages students to think critically and to evaluate conflicting points of view.

Editor's Note: Rhianna Shabsin, the Roger Strand CLCT Postgraduate Fellow, served as the plaintiff's counsel and said afterward that she and her client planned to appeal the verdict "all the way up to the King's Court."   Bailey Woolfstead, J.D. '12, counsel to the princess, is now rumored to be working on a pro bono federal environmental case on behalf of Frosty the Snowman. She will (really) clerk for Judge Frank A. Pfiffner of the Alaska Superior Court after she graduates from William & Mary in May.