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August 3, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Mock Trials a Highlight of OHIO’s Summer Law and Trial Institute

Students of OHIO's Summer Law and Trial Institute with Judge McCarthy

Students of OHIO’s Summer Law and Trial Institute with Judge McCarthy

The 18 high school students of OHIO’s Summer Law and Trial Institute enjoyed a second week of experiential learning and meetings with faculty and local attorneys, culminating in an exciting mock trial in Athens County Court of Common Pleas Judge George P. McCarthy’s courtroom.

While the first week of the program focused on developing core knowledge about the American legal system through classroom lectures and site observations, the second week focused on experiential learning. Students learned about the components of a trial, including opening statements, direct and cross-examination, and closing arguments. They studied case theory, analyzing witness statements, and trial decorum.

The capstone of the students’ hard work was a mock trial held at the Athens County Courthouse in Judge George P. McCarthy’s courtroom. Judge McCarthy presided and helped create a realistic courtroom experience for the students.

Two Mock Trials Held

Two mock trials were held on Friday afternoon in the fictional case of State of New Columbia v. Chris Archer. In this case, a young woman named Milan Jackson has fallen to her death from a university clock tower during a fraternity initiation activity; her blood alcohol level was 0.10. Chris Archer, the president of the fraternity, has been charged with first-degree murder and criminal hazing in Milan’s death. In trying this case, the students were divided into prosecution and defense teams. Each team was given significant leeway in creating their own theory of the case.

Summer Law and Trial Institute Student Ellen Gill, who acted as one of the prosecutors, addresses the jury

Summer Law and Trial Institute Student Ellen Gill, who acted as one of the prosecutors, addresses the jury

The mock trial followed the procedures of an actual criminal trial, with lead counselors giving opening statements, calling and cross-examining witnesses, offering documents into evidence, and providing closing statements. The students followed standard courtroom procedure, such as asking Judge McCarthy’s permission to move freely about the courtroom and to approach witnesses on the stand.

Witnesses, too (who were played by Institute students), were sworn in by Judge McCarthy and answered questions from both the prosecution and defense. The state’s witnesses included Milan Jackson’s best friend, his psychiatrist, and the vice president of the fraternity. The defense’s witnesses included the Dean of Columbus University, a local historian, and the defendant himself.

Amy Flowers (B.A. Political Science ’05, Masters of Public Administration ’08) and Brooke Cartus, both attorneys in Columbus, served as jurors for both trials. After the students delivered their closing statements, the jurors deliberated and delivered their verdict to Judge McCarthy. In the first trial, Chris Archer was found not guilty on both counts. In the second trial, however, the jury found Archer guilty on both counts.

Defense attorney Lori Smith cross-examines a witness while the prosecutors, Stephanie Mertz and Caleb Taulbee, prepare their redirect

Defense attorney Lori Smith cross-examines a witness while the prosecutors, Stephanie Mertz and Caleb Taulbee, prepare their redirect.

The mock trial was a rousing success, and Judge McCarthy praised the students’ preparedness and professionalism. He commented on each person’s performance and delivery, and even told several students, “If you presented a case in court today, no one would know that you are not attorneys.”

The courtroom was packed with spectators, largely consisting of the students’ families, who had travelled to Athens to watch the students compete. Several parents remarked that they enjoyed seeing their children demonstrate their skills in the courtroom, and they were impressed by the realistic, professional proceedings. The opportunity to present a case in a real courtroom was a highlight of the Summer Law and Trial Institute for many students.

“It’s great to get a taste of what the courtroom is really like,” says Camiah Barnett, who played Tyler Johnson, one of the State’s witnesses.

Summer Law and Trial Institute Students Teara Hill and Camiah Barnett

Summer Law and Trial Institute Students Teara Hill and Camiah Barnett

“Getting ready for the mock trial has been my favorite part of the Institute. I do mock trials at my high school and really enjoy it. I’m competitive, and I like to argue!” says Stephanie Mertz, who served as one of the prosecutors for the State of New Columbia.

The program ended with an awards banquet in Carr Hall, part of the state of the art Living Learning Center, where the students had lived for 12 days. At the banquet, Judge McCarthy delivered closing remarks followed by Hayman, who presented each student with a Certificate of Achievement. Several students received special awards for their performance throughout the program, such as Most Promising Future Professional (presented to Molly Moore of Jackson, Ohio; Teara Hill of Zanesville, Ohio, and Ellen Gill of Fleming, Ohio) Most Promising Future Public Interest Lawyer (Camiah Bennett of Zanesville, Ohio), and Most Promising Future Law Professor (Micah Phillips-Gary from Columbus, Ohio). For outstanding performance during the trial, Best Attorney Awards were presented to Ellen Gill from Fleming, Ohio and Stephanie Mertz, from Worthington, Ohio. Best Witness Awards were presented to Daphney Emory, from Zanesville, Ohio and Morgan Adams, of Canal Winchester, Ohio.

Meeting with Legal Experts and Government Officials

During the first week of the institute, students visited the Supreme Court of Ohio. While there, they attended a luncheon hosted by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and her staff, including her judicial externs. The students were inspired by O’Connor’s remarks.

“She told us to remember that when setting our goals, if someone else has done it already then we can do it, too,” says Camiah Barnett, 17, of Zanesville, Ohio.

“She gave us great advice,” agrees Raylin Fetherolf, 16, of Athens.

“Going to the Supreme Court of Ohio has been my favorite part of the Institute,” says Nicholas Hacker, 17, of Albany, Ohio. “Just to be in that courtroom—it was amazing. The institute is opening my mind, teaching me new vocabulary, and preparing me for my career.”

The students also toured the Ohio Judicial Center and met State Rep. Debbie Phillips ’97 on the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives. They also traveled to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio and later met with representatives of Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine’s office. Students also observed the Athens County Court of Common Pleas, interacted with local attorneys and judges, and met faculty and alumni from various departments at OHIO.

Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O'Connor with students of OHIO's Summer Law and Trial Institute

Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court Maureen O’Connor with students of OHIO’s Summer Law and Trial Institute

Learning about OHIO’s Majors and Meeting with Faculty

Several Ohio University faculty members visited with the Law Institute students and provided informative, interactive lessons on the intersections among English, history, political science, sociology, and law studies. For example, Dr. Elizabeth Koonce, Assistant Professor of English, emphasized the importance of rhetorical analysis when examining legal documents. The students reviewed an ongoing local legal case, weighing evidence and analyzing newspaper articles about the case.

“Examination of literary texts gives you the tools to see biases and to construct your own arguments,” Koonce explained to students.

Dr. Mariana Dantas at front of classroom

Dr. Mariana Dantas, associate professor of history, speaks to the students

Dr. Mariana Dantas, Associate Professor of History, worked with students to examine historical documents, specifically a petition from colonial Brazilian society to the King of Portugal. The students analyzed the merits of the people’s claims and their objections to the king’s laws.

“History gives us context for understanding the stakes of modern legal cases,” Dantas explained.

Funding and Other Support

The OHIO Summer Law and Trial Institute was made possible in part by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and does not necessarily represent their views. The institute, which is coordinated by OHIO’s Center for Law, Justice, & Culture, works in collaboration with the Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences, Athens County Court of Common Pleas, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, and Southeastern Ohio Legal Services.

Larry Hayman, Esq. (B.A. Political Science ’03), who serves as the Pre-Law Specialist and Advisor for OHIO’s Center for Law, Justice & Culture, developed and led the program. The 18 high school juniors and seniors who attended the Summer Law and Trial Institute commented on the invaluable experience the program has provided. The institute, which is funded in part by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, is free to accepted students. Applicants were required to have a 3.0 GPA, submit a letter of recommendation and to write an essay explaining their interest in law and justice. They hail primarily from Appalachian Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

Summer Law and Trial Institute student Lori Smith, 17, of Jackson, Ohio

Summer Law and Trial Institute student Lori Smith, 17, of Jackson, Ohio

“The Summer Law and Trial Institute has opened a lot of doors and has given me opportunities I normally wouldn’t get, especially because the program is funded [in part] by the Ohio State Bar Foundation. If it hadn’t been free, I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to learn in more depth what career I’d like to pursue. The institute opened my eyes to what I want to do, and that I want to go to OHIO,” says Lori Smith, 17, of Jackson, OH.

In addition, the Supreme Court of Ohio, Ohio Public Defender’s Office, Athens County Prosecutor’s Office, Athens City Attorney’s Office, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, State Public Defender’s Office, and Athens County Prison Reentry Program, the Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs, and the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, among others, significantly contributed to the program.

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