By CSABA SUKOSD/Court News Ohio
Debate students at Springfield High School know how to make their case.
Springfield won the state moot court championship in a competition that tests students’ abilities as legal researchers, writers, and appellate advocates.
“Being able to do it with two of my best friends who I’ve been a team with three years was absolutely surreal,” said Hannah Mattison, a junior at Springfield High School, who received top honors as an arguing attorney.
The event – run by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE)and co-sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio – was held in Columbus at the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center.
Springfield was one of six teams to compete at the state tournament. Their third championship – the most in Ohio – came against Danville High School – the winner in 2019.
“To see how much they’ve progressed and learned how they’ve grown over the last three, four years has just been amazing to watch,” said Megan Farley, an assistant prosecutor in Franklin County who has coached moot court students since it began under OCLRE in 2014.
The competition gives students the opportunity to present a simulated oral argument and respond to questions posed by a panel of volunteer judges. Arguments are evaluated on the application of the law to the facts of the case.
Along with learning how to present constitutional arguments, moot court gives students their first chance at legal writing. Participants compose a brief that explains legal or factual positions in a case. Those arguments are reviewed and scored by volunteer attorneys. By focusing on the relevance of constitutional law, related to current legal issues, students get the opportunity to strengthen critical thinking skills and increase their understanding of the federal and state constitutions.
“You get a chance to look at the case law and really understand why everything is the way it is that we’re arguing,” said Silvia Korson, a Springfield High School senior.
This year’s moot court case focused on balancing public safety with the individual right to be free from unreasonable searches, as protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. The case questioned whether a police officer had probable cause to search a vehicle during a traffic stop after detecting the smell of marijuana.
The students in the championship round presented their arguments to a panel of five judges, including Supreme Court Justice Patrick F. Fischer. He and other panelists asked the students questions to gauge their knowledge about the case and if they could stay on track with their constitutional claims.
“Being able to respond to the question and then get back to your argument is the sign of a quintessential good lawyer, and all four of you could do that,” Justice Fischer told the students after conclusion of arguments.
All the finalists expressed interest in becoming attorneys. They gained valuable experience working and thinking like an attorney. And they gained tools to benefit them moving forward as students, professionals, and citizens.
“This has given me so much confidence as a public speaker, and to go out into the world and be confident in what I’m saying and be prepared to defend my opinions,” said Korson.