Fairy-tale characters take the stand to teach children about the law

Clifford Womack (left) and Thomas McGill watch a pig being sworn in to testify against the Big Bad Wolf. Pupils, mostly 8 and 9, acted as jurors and decided the fairy-tale cases.
Clifford Womack (left) and Thomas McGill watch a pig being sworn in to testify against the Big Bad Wolf. Pupils, mostly 8 and 9, acted as jurors and decided the fairy-tale cases. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 07, 2011

After a brief but emotional trial, Brutus Benedict Wolf, a.k.a. "Big Bad," was found not guilty Friday on two counts, to the shock of the Three Little Pigs.

During a mock trial before Common Pleas Court Judge Idee Fox, the defense successfully argued that although there was some huffing and puffing, it resulted from bad allergies rather than malicious intent.

Curly, Wilbur, and Babe Pig v. B.B. Wolf was one of a half-dozen cases heard Friday in City Hall courtrooms as part of Law Week. More than 300 students from Philadelphia public, private, and parochial schools participated.

Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, and Jack of beanstalk fame were among the celebrities seen rushing through the corridors, hoping to finally see justice done.

The day started with an address from former Gov. Ed Rendell, who asked the assembled jurors, most of them 8 or 9 years old, how many intended to pursue a career in law.

Nearly every pupil shot a hand into the air. Later, District Court Administrator David Wasson pursued the matter further.

"How many of you plan to become politicians?" he asked.

Only one boy in the front of the room answered in the affirmative.

The mock trials took place Friday, the final day of an annual celebration of the American legal system, coordinated by the Philadelphia Bar Association's young lawyers division. Judges Sandra Mazer Moss, Annette M. Rizzo, Sheila Woods-Skipper, Gary Glazer, Teresa Sarmina, Marlene Lachman, and Fox presided over the fairy-tale cases - fairy tale, in these instances, in its literary sense rather than indicating any bias for or against the validity of the plaintiffs' claims.

During the week, the association also arranged for volunteer lawyers to give free legal advice and information to library patrons; give high school students tours of the city's courts; and talk with students about careers in law.

The three pigs were represented by Todd Zamostien of the personal injury firm Saltz, Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky (which represents the plaintiffs in the duck-boat accident).

Wolf retained Beth Goodell, a defense lawyer from Community Legal Services.

On the witness stand, Wolf, a.k.a. Richard Vanderslice, who bought his hairy, sharp-clawed paws on Amazon.com, testified that he only was trying to make friends with the pigs and felt terrible that his sneezing blew down their homes.

Under questioning, he admitted that because he has no kitchen in his den, "I have to eat out a lot."

One of the tensest moments came when Wolf's physician, a Dr. Lupine, testified that her house was made of sticks and straw. This raised doubts among some astute jurors who wondered why a legitimate allergist would live in a building constructed of such noxious materials.

After deliberating for nearly 10 minutes in Common Pleas Courtroom 426, five of the six juries from the third-grade class from C.W. Henry School determined that Wolf neither intimidated the plaintiffs nor willfully destroyed their property. The sixth panel ended in a hung jury.

Juror Thomas McGill of Mount Airy tried to raise his hand and object during closing arguments, but was asked by the judge to wait.

After the trial, Thomas said he could relate to Wolf's predicament.

"I think B.B. Wolf is innocent because he has allergies," he said. "I have allergies, too!"

Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.

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