Mock trial offers chance to explore law

Posted: Wednesday, April 23, 2003

One member of the Soldotna High School mock trial team has an interest in environmental law, one joined the team because he may someday be a diplomat and another got into it because she had a crush on a guy in mock trial.

Individually the six team members plus one alternate have a wide disparity of interests, but together, they have brought home the Alaska state championship and will travel May 9 to New Orleans vying for the national title.

To prepare for the competition, the team has been meeting with the Anchorage-based Young Lawyers Association, according to team member and captain Jennifer McCard.

The group is learning rules of evidence and studying case law as it pertains to the national mock trial case that involves election fraud and defamation of character.

McCard, a senior who is planning to attend the University of Southern California next fall majoring in environmental studies, said members of the lawyer association have traveled to the Kenai Peninsula to help the students, and Judge Charles Cranston of the Third Judicial District in Kenai also has helped the group prepare.

In mock trial competition, teams are given a fictitious court case complete with a complaint and affidavits of witnesses.

"We write opening and closing statements and bring out the story through law," said team member Matt Meacham, a SoHi senior, who is in his second year of mock trial.

Meacham, who would like to study naval marine architectural engineering building ships and submarines at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said each team consists of three witnesses on either the side of the plaintiff or the defendant and three attorneys on the opposing side.

The team acts out the case as if arguing in a real court trial, and is graded by actual judges, attorneys and paralegals who volunteer from the local legal community.

After taking the case through to a verdict, team members then switch sides and do it again, according to Meacham.

Whether the team wins or loses the case is irrelevant. The grading reflects how well the case is presented, how well case law is presented, how prepared the players are and how well the witnesses perform.

Justin Johnson, a senior who also is in his second year with mock trial, said the case law aspect is structured so anyone can do it.

"What's most important is to rehearse with teammates," said Johnson, who plans to major in English and hopes someday to work in research engineering.

"You have to get into the mind set that This is real.'" he said.

Also planning to major in English hopefully at Brigham Young University in Utah is Pehr Hartvigson, a senior in his third year of mock trial.

"Last year, (the court case) was a criminal trial and the burden of proof was on the side of the prosecution.

"This year at state and nationals, they're civil cases so the winner is based on a preponderance of evidence, making both sides interesting and equally as challenging," he said.

The case in state-level competition involved an insurance settlement and whether the insured's death was caused by suicide.

Asked how the case turned out, the make-believe barrister said, "It was an apparent suicide ... maybe not."

Ryan Myers, a junior in his third year of mock trial, describes the roles in competition as the attorney needing to prepare questions in advance and the witness needing to prepare the character, then acting out the part.

"The most difficult is preparing the opening and closing arguments," said Myers, who has taught himself the Chinese language and hopes one day to pursue a career in Pacific-Asian studies possibly as a broadcast journalist or a diplomat.

"In the opening, you have to say what you're going to show, how you're going to do it and how you're going to prove the guilt or innocence," he said.

Alternate Mark McCartan, a senior who will be attending the U.S. Air Force Academy next fall, said the case at national competition this year involves vote fraud in a school election and defamation of character.

"We need to look over case law from two cases," he said. "One involves vote fraud Savage vs. Edwards and the other deals with defamation Aranyosi vs. Delchamps Inc."

McCartan's brother was involved in mock trial three years ago, and McCartan said he found it interesting so he decided to give it a try. This is his second year in mock trial.

"It might sound like a dumb reason, but I joined 'cause I had a crush on a kid in mock trial," said Haley Smith, a senior who plans to major in journalism at the University of Northern Colorado.

She said she enjoys cross examination the best, "when everything clicks."

"It's also the most terrifying because you don't have the opportunity to practice it," she said.

"With direct (examination), you know who you're going against. With cross, you don't have a clue," she said.

Smith has stuck with mock trial for three years. Asked how things worked out with the object of her crush, she said, "Oh, that never happened."

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