And the verdict was delivered as The Cat stood and shivered
Aspen Times Staff Writer
What, oh what, is a jury to do, when testimony is given by Thing One and Thing Two?
And a fish claims trespass and emotional distress, by a Cat in the Hat who couldn’t care less?
Pitkin County Court welcomed a courtroom full of Aspen Elementary School fifth-graders on Monday morning, to hear a case straight from the pages of Dr. Seuss. The mock civil trial of “Ms. Fish vs. The Cat in the Hat” was heard by Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely of the Pitkin County Court, with pint-sized attorneys running the show.
The fifth-grade classes of Amy Finnerty and Tom Hills are just completing a unit on civil trials, and several local attorneys assisted with the mock trial. The fifth-graders took on all roles in the trial, from jury members to audience, witnesses and attorneys.
According to prosecutors, Ms. Fish claims to have suffered emotional distress at the paws of The Cat in the Hat, when the feline in the striped hat entered her home one “cold, cold, wet day.” She claims that the Cat entered without permission, and caused property damage and her own emotional trauma when he attempted to entertain two children in the house that day.
“Not only was I frightened for the kids, but I was scared for my life,” said a fifth-grader in the role of Ms. Fish. “I didn’t want the cat to eat me. I said, `No! No! Make that cat go away! Tell that Cat in the Hat you do not want to play. He should not be here. He should not be about. He should not be here when your mother is out!'”
But the Cat proceeded to play “Up, up, up with a fish,” balancing Ms. Fish’s bowl on an umbrella while standing on a ball, she said. After landing in a teapot of hot water, the fish told the court that when the cat’s employees, Thing One and Thing Two, showed up at the house, they caused further damage by flying kites around inside.
Only when the children’s mother was on the way home did the Cat clean up the mess he and Thing One and Thing Two had caused, Ms. Fish said, noting that she is still traumatized by the incident.
Ms. Fish is now taking Paxil, a prescribed antidepressant, testified her therapist, Dr. Seuss. Attorneys also questioned Alan and Sally O’Shae, the children the cat attempted to entertain that day; entertainers Thing One and Thing Two; and the defendant himself, The Cat in the Hat, portrayed by Frankie Archuletta.
“The children looked sad and bored – they had nothing to do,” The Cat said. “I tried to cheer the children up. I did nothing to provoke the fish – I was just doing my job.”
Key testimony came from the mother of Alan and Sally, who said when she arrived home that day nothing seemed out of the ordinary and the home seemed “quite clean.”
Although Ms. Fish asked for $56,000 in damages for her emotional distress, the jury cleared The Cat in the Hat of any wrongdoing for that particular claim. After deliberations that included a break for pizza, the jury ruled that $100 be awarded to Ms. Fish, and that The Cat in the Hat was guilty of trespass.
“They were very prepared – they did better than many lawyers,” said Judge Fernandez-Ely after the case had concluded.
Attorneys Katharine Sullivan and Elaine Gerson of Goldberg, Sullivan and Gerson in Aspen assisted the students with their casework, as did Aspen attorney James True.
“This helped them get an overview of the legal system,” Hills said.
Finnerty said Gerson helped teach her class the difference between civil and criminal suits, and helped the classes write the initial complaint and the answer.
“We were all happy with the jury’s decision because both parties felt that they won,” she said. There’s no word yet if The Cat in the Hat will attempt to appeal the amount the jury awarded the plaintiff.
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