Students Participate in Mock Trial
By Glenn Battishill/Delaware Gazette
Students from eight local high schools participated in the 2024 Ohio Mock Trial Competition Friday and questioned witnesses, presented evidence, and objected to examination from their opponents.
The annual competition was held in the juvenile and probate courts located inside the Hayes Building Friday morning and afternoon and was attended by high school students from Big Walnut, Delaware Hayes, Buckeye Valley, Olentangy and Westerville Central, as well as students from three Franklin County Schools: Hilliard Davidson, Whetstone and Worthington Kilbourne.
The event is organized locally by Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David M. Gormley, who said the competition is an opportunity for students to refine a variety of skills.
“It gives young people a great opportunity to learn how to work with others on a project and to develop their ability to become more comfortable speaking in front of other people, which is something you need to learn how to do no matter what you end up doing when you grow up,” Gormley said. “(They are) learning to play within the rules, which is important in the law, of course, and in many careers. (They learn) how to make a persuasive argument. It’s not just law skills but life skills.”
Gormley said the competition is focused on a fictional case centering on the application of the Eighth Amendment’s excessive-fines clause to a property forfeiture in a criminal prosecution. In the fictional case, a defendant has pled guilty to a money-laundering offense, and the state is trying to seize his 1967 Chevy Camaro.
During the competition, students have to present and argue both sides of the case, Gormley said, adding the competition is a “pretty good representation of what it might be like to practice law.”
“You have lawyers who develop the fact pattern every year,” he said. “They try to craft something that is realistic and pull from something they’ve seen news stories about. You start with something that could well happen. Then the kinds of rules of evidence that people are asked to employ are quite similar to what lawyers would know and use in a courtroom everywhere.”
Hayes High School U.S. studies and economics teacher David Morgan is the advisor for the Hayes team and said this year was an interesting challenge since only three members of the 12-member team returned from last year.
“It was nine completely new kids that gave it a try this year,” Morgan said. “I think they did very well (having) never done this before.”
One of the returning Hayes team members was Juliana West, a junior, who said she joined the team because she wants to become a defense attorney in the future.
“I’ve wanted to be a lawyer ever since seventh grade,” West said. “I found out about mock trial my freshman year and started out as a witness. I was really fascinated by all the legal aspects. Over the summer, I started to go to mock trial competitions and watch them. I’m really glad I got to participate in this.”
In the morning competition, West, who was one of two attorneys representing the state in the case, said she enjoyed herself.
“I was stupid nervous,” West said. “This is my favorite thing because these are some of my best friends. I’ve made friends through this. You get to meet all these kids who have the same interest as you from different grades. It’s really fun and perfect.”
Lucy Mayes, a sophomore, was the timekeeper for the Hayes team and said she was excited to join the team this year.
“I’ve always been interested in legal stuff, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to come and see how it works,” Mayes said.
Hayes junior Nicholas Hejmanowski, who was the other attorney for the state in the morning session alongside West, said he joined the team this year after competing in 2023.
“I did it last year, and I had a lot of fun,” Hejmanowski said. “I want to be a lawyer, and I think this is great practice. It’s a way that I can get myself some experience while having some fun at the same time.”
Friday afternoon, Gormley reported that the teams from Big Walnut, Olentangy, Westerville Central, Worthington Kilbourne and one of the team’s from Whetstone would all be advancing to the regional competition on Feb. 16. The state finals are March 7-9 in Columbus.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903.