RUTLAND – A tree was on the witness stand at Rutland civil court, and a talking raccoon was translating for him.
It was the annual Law Day mock trial, in which members of the Rutland County Bar Association use fictional characters to teach local school children about the law. In recent years, the mock trials have been based around recent popular movies. The Wednesday event, which consisted of morning and afternoon sessions for different groups of students, drew its characters from Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise.
The plaintiff was archvillain Thanos, portrayed by Thomas Bixby clad in a full-length, movie-accurate costume. He was suing Shuri, the scientist younger sister of the Black Panther, portrayed by Phyllisa Jones Prescott, for damaging his infinity gauntlet, a MacGuffin the movie version of Thanos assembled in an effort to wipe out half of all life in the universe.
“This is not quite Earth 616 and closer to Earth 617, which is not a real thing,” Judge David Barra told the audience, explaining the liberties the mock trial would take with the plot of “Avengers: Infinity War.”
As whimsical as the premise is, the cases are argued using (more or less) real-world legal procedures and a jury drawn from the students in attendance. The morning session was made up of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from Shrewsbury Mountain School, Clarendon Elementary School and Christ the King School.
The plaintiff and defendant each took the stand, with Thanos claiming Shuri damaged the gauntlet for which he paid 2.5 million galactic credits for by shooting it with a force field generator. Thanos admitted the infinity gauntlet had no warranty, and the damage took place during a battle he started. Shuri admitted she tried to damage the gauntlet but failed, but would have been justified had she succeeded because Thanos was evil.
Each side also called one witness, which resulted in Rocket Raccoon taking the stand for Thanos and Groot testifying for Shuri. When a child in the audience asked why more of the Avengers weren’t there, organizer and attorney for the defense Karl Anderson quipped that they couldn’t afford the rights to the whole movie.
Elijah LaChance, wearing a fur hat and raccoon mask, hammed it up as Rocket, an alien anthropomorphic raccoon known for his snark. Instead of “I do,” he responded to being asked if he would swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth with “Yeah, that.” The audience got to see rules about relevant testimony in action when Anderson tried to ask Rocket about his “lengthy criminal record” and Thanos’ lawyer, Shannon Lamb, objected.
Groot, played by Jim Levins, is a talking tree. All he ever says is “I am Groot,” but the phrase can mean almost anything. With Rocket being one of the few characters — and only one present — who can understand Groot, Anderson called on him to translate. This led to a multifaceted objection from Lamb questioning the raccoon on his ability to translate for the tree.
“We were business partners for a long time,” LaChance said when asked how he learned Groot’s language. “I got it right, things worked out. I got it wrong, he beat me with his trunk.”
LaChance, covered head to toe in camouflage and holding a tree branch, found several different inflections and intonations to use as he replied to every question with “I am Groot.”
As the jury deliberated, Barra asked the remaining students who they would find for. While the vast majority raised their hands for Shuri, a handful backed Thanos. One argued Thanos spent a lot of money on the Infinity Gauntlet and was entitled to get his use out of it.
“It’s not his fault that he wanted to wipe out half the universe because maybe he didn’t have good enough parents to tell him not to do that,” another argued. “He’s just following his dreams.”
Shuri’s supporters argued she was defending herself, and Thanos shouldn’t have taken the gauntlet to a battle if he didn’t want it broken — a doctrine the lawyers explained is called “assumption of risk.”
Deliberations resulted in a hung jury and the declaration of a mistrial.