Learning by trial
Local students argue mock court case
The case is important, but it’s the players that get judged.
Six teams contested in morning and afternoon sessions Friday in the district Ohio Mock Trial competition, for a day turning Washington County and Marietta City courtrooms into a proving ground for students with inclinations toward the study of law.
Three teams came from Athens County, two from Bidwell and one from Warren High School.
Warren has a tradition of competing in Mock Trial, interrupted last year by the retirement of a teacher but resumed this year under government teacher Jason Johnson.
Four of the Warren team members – senior Bailey Harlow, junior Mya Smith, sophomores Sarah Watson and junior Chloe Rader – reflected on their morning session performance. All agreed that preparation was crucial to success.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Watson said.
“A lot of unknowns, even when you’re prepared,” Harlow said.
The case involved a motion to suppress evidence in a case against a man accused of hacking into a blockchained cryptocurrency account and stealing $120 million. The evidence had been acquired as the result of a drone flying over the man’s property and photographing him as an incidental effect of surveying a city-owned farm adjacent to the man’s home. It was a complex, real-world engaging case, and the team members — made up of attorneys and witnesses — had to be prepared to either defend or oppose the motion.
“We had to study drones, what all that entails, and review any case law,” Smith said. Drones are a recent phenomenon and case law on them is scant compared to most other issues.
“It was more of a Fourth Amendment argument, that way,” Harlow said.
The judges use a complex scoring system to rate both attorneys and witnesses, choosing one of each from the sessions. In one of the morning sessions, Smith was rated best attorney and Rader was rated outstanding witness.
Although the Warren team won’t be going to regionals, Johnson said he was pleased with his team.
“I think they really knocked it out of the park,” he said.
Johnson said one strength of the Warren team this year is that it was primarily underclassmen, which means the school will have a stronger bench returning next year.
“The competition is getting steeper every year,” he said.
The teams were made up of lawyers, witnesses, bailiffs and timekeepers. Johnson said the lawyers and witnesses had the greatest time commitment.
“We get the case in mid-October,” he said.
Attorneys can decide whether they wish to prosecute or defend, he said, depending on their natural inclinations. Witnesses have to memorize the entire case file to be prepared for any questions the attorneys ask.
Johnson said local attorneys, particularly Ray Smith and Robin Bozian, were extremely supportive. Both Smith and Bozian were in the courtrooms to watch Friday.
Smith said he and Bozian both had children in school when they started supporting the Mock Trial, and continued because they enjoy it.
The Warren team consisted of seniors Bailey Harlow, Christian Smith, Taylor Vickers, Garrett Miller and Mackinzi Heiss, juniors Mya Smith, Chloe Rader, Grace Wharton and Brayden Duty, and sophomore Sarah Watson.
“The plan is to come back again next year,” Johnson said. “The kids are so excited that they’re are recruiting their friends.”
Although not all feel they’re cut out for the legal profession, Mya Smith is the exception.
“I want to be a constitutional lawyer and run for Congress,” she said. Smith was there when the new Congress went into session.
“I was crying, so excited to see those young women elected, it just felt empowering,” she said.
The Ohio High School Mock Trial competition
Sponsor: Ohio Center for Law-Related Education
•Improve critical thinking, reading, writing, public speaking and listening skills.
•Develop understanding and appreciation for the law, court procedures and the judicial system.
•Understand constitutional rights and responsibilities.
•Recognize and reward students’ academic and intellectual achievements.
•Regional competitions: Feb. 15.
•State competition: March 7-9.
Source: Ohio Center for Law-Related Education.