Education can take you to some unusual places, and affect you in atypical ways—like, say, taking the stand in the courtroom of a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge as expert witnesses for the prosecution AND the defense.
Two students in Dr. Martha Eining’s Fraud and Forensic Accounting class, Chase Potter and Mariela Zhivkova (pictured below), recently had just that experience in the courtroom of Justice William Thurman, answering questions from real lawyers from the firm of Durham, Jones & Pinegar about a fraud case Eining’s class had explored all semester.
Eining organizes the course so that the students are split into two teams who are “hired” by either the plaintiff or the defense in a case of alleged fraud. The students sift through raw data, interview potential witnesses, and do analysis of the industry involved and the specific firm in the mock case. Then, both teams prepared an Expert Witness report. Potter and Zhivkova were each selected to represent their respective teams in the courtroom.
“We believe it is very important to provide real-world experiences to our students whenever possible,” Eining said of the trip to U.S. Bankruptcy Court. “The course is designed to simulate a real case as closely as possible, and was built based on actual cases.”
The mock trial not only gives the two students working as expert witnesses a unique experience, Eining said. It also provides the entire class with a view of what takes place in court and to see how lawyers question witnesses in a court setting. At the end of the mock trial, both the judge and the lawyers offer feedback and insight into the process for the class.
Both students chosen as expert witnesses considered the opportunity a highlight of their time in the class. Potter called it “one of the highlights of my entire experience at the U,” while Zhivkova noted that “meeting with the attorneys and trying to discuss the case was an experience I will never forget.”
“I learned that working with the attorneys and trying to explain and educate them—and later explain to the judge—on the technical aspects of accounting is quite an art,” Zhivkova said. “More than anything, I could see that being an expert witness as a woman can be quite challenging and intimidating, but nevertheless we can withstand the pressure. The day in court it was stressful, intense and real. I felt like I was bombarded with questions non-stop and it would never end, but it was a test of my abilities to respond as best as I can, stay true to myself and my opinion, and think on the go.”
Potter was impressed by how “I was treated as a colleague by experienced attorneys in all of my interactions with them. I got a glimpse of how valuable my education from the U is.”
“Looking back now,” Zhivkova added, “I would do it all over again. Being able to act as an expert witness is a valuable experience, and every experience we are offered to be part of helps us build confidence, expand our potential and gain new skills.”