Two local high school mock trial teams are moving onto the regional competition scheduled for Feb. 15. Two teams from Lake Local Schools and two teams from Green Local Schools have advanced in the annual competition.
The teams who win at the regional competitions advance to state competitions March 7-9 in Columbus. Winners at that level will advance to the nationals in Athens, Ga., in May.
Teachers and volunteer legal advisors guide the Ohio Mock Trial Competition. Students participate in unscripted, original simulated trials written by attorneys. Team members argue both sides of the case in real courtrooms. Mock trial is open to students freshman through seniors.
According to the Ohio Center for Law Related Education’s website, more than 3,000 high school students compete in the annual Ohio Mock Trial along with 1,000 teachers and legal professionals who volunteer their time to the program. It’s the largest non-athletic competition in Ohio and among the largest in the nation.
This year’s case focuses on the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as it applies to technology. A fictional defendant, Quinn Woolf, is charged with aggravated theft and telecommunications fraud for allegedly using a private, alpha-numeric code to steal $120 million from the state pension fund.
The catch is that the state used an aerial drone to obtain images of the defendant in Woolf’s backyard. Student attorneys cross examine student played witnesses for the case in the district, regional and state competitions. A different case is used at the national competition.
Lake Local Schools Read and Blue Teams
Legal studies teacher Teresa Miller is the advisor for the mock trial teams at Lake Local. She said two teams from the district have advanced to the regional competition. One team (Team Red) will compete in Stark County and the second team (Team Blue) will compete in Summit County. Each team has 11 students made up of juniors and seniors.
Miller said the district is in Stark County, but it is about the same distance from the Stark or Summit County Courts. She said they were asked to divide the teams between the two counties.
“We fine tune our presentation and performances for each competition, but we don’t really change the strategy much,” Miller said. “Teams are judged on their understanding of the law, the performance aspect of the witnesses and how the student attorneys respond to objections and their civility and how they follow procedures in the courtroom.”
Lake also earned three outstanding attorney awards for Brooke Pendergrass (Team Blue), Tiffany Beadnell and Bailey Sullivan (both Team Red). They also earned to outstanding witnesses for Grace Weisel (Team Blue) and Madison Rayman (Team Red).
“We have advanced the last two year to state competitions where we won top attorney and top witness awards but have never advanced to national competition,” Miller said.
“I tell my teams that we always have a chance to advance and that it depends on doing perfect practices. Our goal is to never loose, we may get beat by another team, but we always lay it on the line and bring the best that we have.”
Lake has been competing for nine years and students from the first couple of years have made the law their career. Miller said she has had two of students attend law school, pass the bar exam and have become attorneys. One of the students was in the first team in 2011 and the second was in the 2012 team.
Green Local Schools
Green Local has been competing in mock trials in Summit County for 15 years. This is the first year it has had two teams advance to regionals. One of the teams won first place at district this year.
Shawn Edwards is the advisor and teaches world and European History at Lake High School.
“While we have had a team qualify for regionals in five of the last six years, this is the first time we have sent two teams to regionals,” Edwards wrote in an email. “Also, this is the second time in three years that one of our teams earned first place for the district competition.
"The team that won First Place was an extremely hard-working team. It’s an all-girl team and they call their team the Ladies of Law. They met regularly outside of our normal practice times. They are mostly an experienced team with several girls that have been members for three to four years.”
He added that the team practiced enough that the lawyers did not need their notes and understood the key details of the case, especially being able to make objections and learning how to respond if their questions were objected to by opposing counsel.
“Additionally, the students that played the role of witness worked hard to know their statement and learned not to give into opposing counsels questions. The other team, called Los Abogados, has a mix of experienced students and some in their first year,” Edwards wrote.
Plus, Green received five Best Attorney awards and three Best Witness. Elizabeth Howerton, Amanda Salmons, Alex Pond, Julia Tsarnas and Saad Yousef took home Best Attorney. Ayda Qureshi, Ethan Sir Louis and Olivia Woods won Best Witness.
While Green hasn’t had a chance to compete in the state competition, Edwards wrote that, “I see no reason why they are not good enough to go to state. Both teams are continuing to work on being better for the next round on Feb. 15. Having seen the strategies other teams have used we can tweak each part and continue to work at our craft. The tough part is that all of the teams at regionals will be well prepared; however, I feel that as long as we perform as we have practiced, both teams have a strong chance of making it to the state competition.”
The team is being assisted by local attorneys such as Stephen Pruneski, Lisa Dean and CJ Meager.
“This year has been especially gratifying as I have seen the continued years of hard work put in by a group of senior girls. Elizabeth Howerton has been the driving force behind her team. She has been an attorney (in competition) for four years and spends countless hours perfecting her craft, but also assisting her teammates and other students on other teams. She has certainly demonstrated that she would serve as an excellent lawyer if she chooses this as a career path,” wrote Edwards.
He also commended a few other team members including Elizabeth West who has also been competing for four years in different roles. Edwards wrote that she had a great handle on the case and was able to overcome being sick on the day of the competition.
Ayda Qureshi has become an expert witness for the past three years and has thrived in that role and demonstrates advance knowledge on many technical issues. Lastly, he mentioned Amanda Salmons who competed for the first year as an attorney.
“Amanda’s closing remarks she gave on the day of the competition were expertly crafted and stated without notes which helped drive her team to victory,” Edwards wrote.