Mock trial competition continues

STEUBENVILLE – No verdict was announced in the case of Phillips High School vs. a student activist group Monday afternoon.

But the attorneys and witnesses from the Steubenville High School mock trial team were complimented and encouraged by Dillonvale county court Judge David Scarpone after he presided over the team’s final two-hour practice before competing Friday in district competition at the Columbiana County Courthouse in Lisbon.

The mock trial case held at the Jefferson County Justice Center centered on a high school that had received a $500,000 grant from a large corporation in exchange for naming rights to the football facility.

A student group called Occupy opposed the plan and then claimed First and Fourth amendment rights had been violated when the school lockers were searched, cell phones seized and group members were prohibited from distributing pamphlets and protesting on school property.

“Occupy is in blatant disregard of several school rules and attempted to vilify the school board for agreeing to this proposal,” said Alexandra Kilonsky serving as a school attorney.

“Eat, sleep and breathe freedom. U.S. citizens have the right to freedom of speech. The free exchange of ideas is an important part of democracy,” said Allie Zimish in her opening arguments for the student group.

The plaintiff attorneys called two witnesses to the stand during the mock trial, including an undercover police officer who posed as a student and the school principal while the defense called a government teacher who served as an unofficial adviser to Occupy and Jessie Springfield, one of the Occupy leaders.

Scarpone noted the passion of the witnesses and the legal cases cited by the attorneys.

“Both sides had good arguments. You set the standard today. The opening statements were well done. The subject matter and questions were all good,” Scarpone told the student attorneys.

Scarpone also complimented the witnesses, “for really being the person you were portraying.”

“The Ohio Mock Trial Program, established by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education in 1983, is a statewide educational program designed to allow students to become aware of their constitutional rights and responsibilities. It provides students the opportunity to learn firsthand about the law, court procedures and the judicial system while also building interpretation, critical thinking and public speaking skills. Students who compete in the Mock Trial program come away with a greater understanding of not only the principles our legal system is founded on but of themselves and the skills they possess,” explained mock trial coach Cherie Metcalf.

“Each year volunteer attorneys write a legally authentic case involving a constitutional issue that is relevant to students’ own personal experiences. Training is offered to teachers to help them use the constitutional case materials in their classrooms and give instruction in methods of preparing students to present mock trials. Teachers have the option of entering a team or teams of five to 11 students in an annual statewide academic competition coordinated by OCLRE,” said Metcalf.

The state competition is held in March in Columbus. The winner of the state competition then advances to the national competition, which is held in late spring.

According to Metcalf, every team presents its case once as the plaintiff or prosecution and once as the defense. Two attorneys, two witnesses and one bailiff\timekeeper will compete for each team in each trial. The competition is governed by a modified version of the Ohio Rules of Evidence and the Mock Trial Rules of Competition.

“Special thanks goes to Judge David Scarpone for his legal guidance and assistance in preparation of our case,” Metcalf said.