Even for a professional attorney, going in front of a judge can be scary.
So imagine what it must have been like for the members of the Heritage High School Mock Trial Team — mostly sophomores — who prosecuted a pretend murder case in front of real District Judge J. Mark Hannen on Feb. 25.
“Both teams had a lot of courage,” Hannen said after the students wrapped up their case against the defense team from Aurora Central.
The Heritage team — the only one in Littleton — was one of 17 competing in the regional competition hosted by the Colorado Bar Association last weekend. Although held entirely in a courtroom at the Arapahoe County Justice Center in Centennial, and marked by the formal decorum of a real trial, underneath ran the current of a full-on sporting event, complete with intense players, nervous parents, proud coaches, a running time clock and fierce competition.
Barbara Bolen, HHS business teacher, said the kids work hard all year to prepare, coached by volunteer attorneys Suzanne Staiert and Bob Bruce.
“It helps kids to really think on their feet,” said Bolen. “With technology, they’ve lost some of that. ... Kids don’t communicate as well anymore.”
The kids know the facts of the case in advance, but not whether they will be the prosecution or the defense, nor what the other side might throw at them. It was a tough case — no murder weapon and very little other evidence, not even a body. While jurors (volunteers from the legal community) didn’t have to render a verdict, they did critique the presentation, calling it “emotional” and “professional.”
Charlie Garascha added “theatrical” to the list — indeed, the presentation was equal parts criminal law, forensic science and dramatic acting. Garascha drove all the way from Pueblo to see his grandson, Ian Nueman, play the role of prosecuting attorney. He said the experience has been great for his grandson’s self-esteem and ability to think extemporaneously.
“It’s very important to achieve something, get to the goal and get a pat on the back,” said Garascha. “It’s also a chance for us all to see what the law is like. It seems like people are losing faith in the process, but the law keeps us from being primitives.”
Team member Kenzie Knight said the experience has expanded her view of the world, and she’s now considering law as a profession. Although she and Nueman and their teammates Lizzi Stephani, EvanAnn Boose, Sam Anderson and Jackson Kilpatrick didn’t get to advance to state, Knight said she was pleased with their performance.
“It’s a compliment that we went up against the kids we did, because they’re really good,” she said.
Stephani scored a personal victory Saturday, earning recognition as an “Outstanding Witness” in her role as an investigator.
“I worked hard, and I really maximized my potential in the time I was allotted to learn the part,” she said.
An Arapahoe High School student, Stephani just joined the HHS students last week after calling the CBA in search of a team. She’d heard about mock trial through her involvement in speech and debate, and she thought it would be a good opportunity to explore her interest in law.
“I learned you have to get all your ducks in a row, and ask the right questions that you know won’t be objected to,” she said.