After a day of carefully-practiced arguing, emotionally-moving witness testimonies and off-the-cuff surprises at the Washington County Courthouse, two district high school mock trial teams will move on to regional competition as part of the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education's 31st Annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition.
Of the 3,000 high school students that spent the day in courtrooms across the state Friday for district competition, a team of nine Federal Hocking High School students and a team of eight Warren High School students advanced past the district contest. They each won two of the mock trials they had prepared for over several months.
Judged by local volunteer attorneys and judges, students played the roles of plaintiff and defense attorneys as well as witnesses in a pre-determined fictitious case created by attorneys that was uniform throughout the state.
District Coordinator John Halliday said it's always quite the display of students' ability to learn and practice the legal process.
"They put hours and hours into it," said Halliday, who has been a part of the program for 15 years. "The level of preparation and amount of work that goes into preparing is always impressive."
Warren High School and Federal Hocking High School were this year's two participating schools, with Warren bringing three separate teams and Federal Hocking bringing two. Students were given an 168-page book detailing a fictitious case that they had to prepare witness and attorney procedure for, both on the defense and the plaintiff side.
"They read it, take it, move it, put their own spin on it. They see things that we never see and we've been at it a long time," said Robin Bozian, a Southeastern Ohio Legal Services attorney who advises the Warren teams.
Students spent the day questioning witnesses, making rebuttals and objecting over the provided case, which Warren coach Ray Smith, also a local attorney, said is a thrill, especially when his teams make it to state competition. Smith and Bozian said the loss of practice because of the recent winter weather hurt, but everyone rose above it.
In this year's case, fictitious Philips High School agrees to license naming rights of its field to a large corporation. Students protest this action and the school district responds by installing security cameras and searching the students' lockers. The students claim the school district has violated their rights under the First and Fourth amendments.
"There are always points that you forget something, but there are always other attorneys to help you out," said Warren student Kaleb Deem, a witness for the plaintiff. "It's always good competition."
Alexis Hupp, a Warren student who played a plaintiff attorney, said that though nerves always set in, it's important to be able to think quickly.
"It's fun to see the attorneys have to re-word things on the spot and still get what they need out of the witness, and they get completely blindsided," she said.
Warren's Team Athos advanced after winning two sections of the competition. The team also boasted two outstanding attorney awards in Trent White and Amanda Davis, as well as two outstanding witness awards in Logan Reynolds and Katie Johnson.
This was one of the few times two teams instead of one advanced to regionals, as a team must win at least two of the day's competitions to qualify.
Federal Hocking's Team Gold made sure Warren was not the only area to school to move on.
"Being an attorney can be stressful, and dealing with the kids makes it incredible," said Douglas Francis, a Federal Hocking coach and public defender in Athens County.
Eli Kasler, a Federal Hocking senior who advanced with Team Gold, portrayed the vice president of the fictitious soft drink company involved in the case. Kasler, along with several of his classmates, are taking a practical law class that helps feed into the mock trial teams, which he has been doing since his freshman year.
"It's kind of like a play, but you're using law and actual cases, and it's pretty fun because you get to pick out what you do," he said.
Several students expressed that they did not necessarily want to become lawyers after high school, but were still interested in law. Others competed in the mock trial just did it for the fun and the competition.
"They may not become lawyers, but this teaches them how to speak in front of a group and learn how to be persuasive in their speeches and their speaking," Smith said.
"And think on their feet," Bozian added. "You have to react to everything."
Many area schools, like Belpre and Fort Frye, have put their own hats in district competitions before. Smith said in the spirit of good local competition, he hopes that Marietta High School, who has yet to enter a team, will do so in the future.
Regional competitions will be held at to-be-determined locations across the state on Feb. 21. Teams that advance from will compete in state competition March 6-8.
The state winner will advance to the National High School Mock Trial Championship May 8-10 in Madison, Wis.
Ohio District Mock Trial Competition District Winners:
Sponsored by the Washington County Bar Association
-Warren High School: Team Athos-Trent White, Amanda Davis, Logan Reynolds, Katie Johnson, Gillian Amrine, Meghan Rice, Lara Eksi, Brogan Davis.
-Federal Hocking High School: Team Gold-Raj Lyons, Colleen Byron, Ben Conrad, Evan Bradford, Austen Burns, Kayla Honesty, Luke Fredricks, Eli Kasler, Mallory McIntyre, Brad Collins.
-Regional Competition: Feb. 21, State Competition: March 6-8 in Columbus, National Competition: May 8-10 in Madison, Wis.