Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / Staff photo
Christopher Larson plays the part of Willy Wonka, the defendant, during the Law Day 2012 mock trial, Veruca Salt v. Willy Wonka, at Vermont Superior Court Rutland Civil Division on Thursday. Elementary students from Castleton, Christ the King, Clarendon, Proctor, Rutland Town and Wallingford schools were in attendance, and some were included on the jury.
RUTLAND — It was a long day in court for fictional chocolate maker Willie Wonka.
In back-to-back mock trials in Rutland civil court, the top-hat-sporting cocoa mogul was handed split verdicts by juries made up of fifth-graders from six school districts who heard arguments in a case in which Wonka was sued by golden-ticket finder Veruca Salt.
The mock trials are part of a playful court tradition that takes place every May to recognize National Law Day. This year, classes from Castleton, Christ the King, Clarendon, Proctor, Rutland Town and Wallingford participated in the proceedings.
“We want you to think of the rule of law and the role the court plays,” Rutland attorney Barry Griffith said before the trial began.
The Wonka trial follows a long line of fictional legal disputes involving characters from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to the game show “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”
But in the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” storyline, the lawyers and judges who donned costumes and played out their respective roles on Thursday had a legal grievance for breach of contract practically built in.
“Young and innocent Veruca Salt is here today to seek justice,” court administrator Teri Corsones said during opening arguments for her client. “She was promised verbally and in writing that she would receive a lifetime of chocolate. Instead, she has received only disappointment, disillusionment and dashed hopes.”
Anyone familiar with British author Roald Dahl’s story may remember that Veruca wasn’t the most sympathetic character in the book.
But Veruca — played by attorney Lisa Chalidze — and Corsones put on a surprisingly strong case in the second case against Wonka, who came off as something of a shady businessman despite the enthusiastic representation of attorney Stacy Chapman.
It didn’t help that much of the evidence presented by Wonka — portrayed by Rutland attorney Christopher Larson — was flimsy at best.
Asked to show what rules Veruca broke to disqualify her from Wonka’s contest, the enigmatic businessman produced a contract written out on a large roll of toilet paper. But with the exception of the five ticket-holder’s signatures, the contract was blank.
“Unfortunately, it was written in chocolate and someone — probably an Oompa Loompa — ate it,” Wonka testified.
Even more damning was the testimony of one of Wonka’s diminutive laborers, played by a singing Glenn Barnes, who told the court that he pushed Veruca into a garbage shoot to ensure that the chocolate magnate’s preferred heir, Charlie Bucket, would win the contest.
The unnamed Oompa Loompa told the court that Wonka had threatened to deport him if he didn’t sabotage the other contestants.
That key piece of testimony likely played a role in the 12-student jury’s swift verdict in favor of Veruca. After less than 10 minutes of deliberation, the jurors returned with a finding in favor of the 10-year-old and an order that Wonka pay $30,000, which Veruca could use only for the purchase of chocolate.
Earlier in the day, another group of students found in Wonka’s favor.
Before the jury returned with its verdict the second time around, many of the roughly 75 students in the courtroom offered their own opinions on the case and quizzed Judge Mary Miles Teachout on the elements of civil law.
“That’s why we have juries,” the judge responded to a student questioning the credibility of the Oompa Loompa. “It’s hard for any one person to sort out all of the facts and decide who is telling the truth.”
Connor Ladabouche, another Rutland Town student, noted that the disappearing ink on the chocolate baron’s contract was too convenient.
“He didn’t have any rules on the contract,” Ladabouche said.
“He could have been lying.”
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