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August 17, 2018 at 10:12 am

Institute Gives High School Students Hands-On Look at Legal System

Summer Law & Trial Institute students at the Supreme Court of Ohio, standing in front of the justice's bench.

Summer Law & Trial Institute students at the Supreme Court of Ohio

by Kristin Distel

More than 40 alumni and guest speakers brought high school students in the Summer Law & Trial Institute face-to-face with legal issues from today’s headlines—and even a mock trial.

Twenty high school students from Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia were selected from among a pool of almost 80 applicants to attend this summer’s free institute. The program seeks to increase understanding of the law and American legal system while directly addressing the complex legal challenges associated with social and economic inequality in Appalachia.

Alumnus Larry Hayman, Pre-Law Advisor and Specialist for the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, established the program at Ohio University in 2016 and has served as the program director since.

Students in the Summer Law & Trial Institute participate in a mock trial, shown here in a courtroom.

Students in the Summer Law & Trial Institute participate in a mock trial as Ohio State Bar Foundation Fellows and staff serve as jurors.

Prosecutor, Defense Attorney Talk about Plea Bargains

The Summer Law and Trial Institute consistently features an exceptional list of speakers with whom students are eager to interact. Each speaker teaches students about a particular aspect of the legal field, including plea bargaining, objections, and introducing evidence, among many other topics.

“My favorite part of this program was hearing from over 40 different speakers involved in law and being able to ask them questions that have now helped me plan my future,” says Trinity Jones, a senior at Alexander High in Albany, Ohio.

Elizabeth Pepper, Esq. and Karyn Justice, Esq. taught an interactive session on plea bargaining that gave students hands-on experience with negotiating plea agreements between the prosecution and defense.

Attorney Elizabeth Pepper discusses plea agreements with students, sitting at table

Attorney Elizabeth Pepper discusses plea agreements with students

Pepper, who graduated with a B.A. in History in 2003 from the College of Arts & Sciences, is the Athens Prosecutor’s Chief of the Criminal Division. In 2014, she was promoted to the position of lead prosecutor for sexual assault causes and white-collar crime.

Justice, who previously served as an Assistant State Public Defender in Meigs and Pike Counties, has worked as a defense attorney and poverty lawyer since 2000.

Pepper and Justice explained to students how plea bargaining can benefit both the prosecution and the defense. In teams, students worked through sample cases to help understand the advantages and concessions that both sides make in plea agreements.

Providing examples of recent cases in Southeast Ohio, the speakers discussed concepts such as the right to a speedy trial, levels of felonies, merging charges, and judicial release.

The students asked Pepper and Justice insightful questions about reentry programs, credit for time served, the differences between civil and criminal domestic violence cases, what constitutes aggravated murder, and why a convicted criminal might get “175 years in prison instead of life.” The speakers provided topical examples and definitions that answered students’ questions and highlighted the differences between various states’ laws.

Attorney and alum Sandra Anderson instructs students on direct and cross examinations.

Attorney and alum Sandra Anderson instructs students on direct and cross examinations.

Learning from OHIO Alumni, Students, Faculty and Staff

The institute also allows students to interact with OHIO alumni who have gone on to great success in the legal field while maintaining their close ties to Athens County. Students attended:

  • A lecture on Court of Appeals procedures with alum Sean Gallagher, Ohio Court of Appeals Judge in the Eighth Appellate District.
  • Sessions on rules of evidence and objections with Zachary Saunders, Esq. ’08, who earned a B.A. in Political Science from the College of Arts & Sciences.
  • A lesson on direct examination and cross examination with alum and former President of the Ohio University Board of Trustees Sandra Anderson, Esq. (’73)
  • An introduction to case briefing with Rusty Rittenhouse, Esq. ’02.
Attorney Rusty Rittenhouse instructs SLTI students, standing at lecturn in front of room

Attorney Rusty Rittenhouse instructs institute students.

In addition to OHIO alumni, institute participants learned about law-related opportunities at Ohio University from current students and recent alumni.

Current pre-law students Zachary Weeks, Lillian Mattimoe and Lydia Wendel served on a panel with recent alumni Cassidy Cleland ’18 who starts law school at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in this fall and Alyssa Alcorn ’16 who works at an election law firm in Columbus.

The institute schedule also featured a site visit to the Athens County Court of Common Pleas and a visit with Judge Patrick Lang ’99, where they learned about his path to becoming a judge and work done in his court.

Dr. Matthew Stallard discusses OHIO's English Pre-Law major with students in classroom..

Dr. Matthew Stallard discusses OHIO’s English Pre-Law major.

Faculty members from various OHIO departments also visited the students, delivered short lectures similar to those of a first year class, and provided information about the opportunities that different majors offer to those who are interested in pre-law. Dr. Matthew Stallard highlighted OHIO’s English Pre-Law major, while Dr. Kevin Uhalde and Dr. Amanda Cox represented History and Sociology, respectively.  In addition, Dr. Jennifer Fredette represented Political Science.

“My favorite part of SLTI was definitely getting to meet lawyers and pre-law, political science professors and students. They helped prepare me for things other than law, like the reality of college and law school,” says student Sydney Lohr, a junior at West Jefferson High School in West Jefferson, Ohio. Lohr wants to practice criminal defense or civil rights law.

In addition to faculty, the institute’s schedule also involved a number of opportunities to learn about the university in other capacities. Moreover, students also enjoyed a visit with Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, who engaged with them about the value both of a liberal arts education and careers in public service.

Dr. Margaux Cowden ’01, Director of the Cutler Scholars Program and Honors Program, presented information about the Honors Tutorial College and the Cutler’s Scholars Program.  Students also had opportunities to take a campus tour and meet with Scott Jackson, an undergraduate admissions adviser.

Visiting the Supreme Court of Ohio, Attorney General, ACLU of Ohio, and Legal Aid

Several students cited the group’s annual visit to the Supreme Court of Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio as highlights of their institute experience.

During an all-day excursion to Columbus, the students were treated to a tour of the Supreme Court of Ohio, where they were able to observe attorneys delivering oral arguments before the Court and to learn about the history of the Ohio Judicial Center. After oral arguments, students had lunch with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and met with her staff of judicial externs, who are first- and second-year law students.

Institute students with Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor at Ohio Supreme Court.

Institute students with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

“I really enjoyed visiting the Supreme Court of Ohio. I found this experience to be very inspiring and informative,” says Elizabeth Sexton, a senior from Williamstown, W.Va.

“Chief Justice O’Connor is a great example of a strong woman doing great things. I was glad I got to meet her and see her doing her job,” Sexton adds.

After visiting the Supreme Court, students went to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, where they met with almost a dozen lawyers, law clerks, and college interns. Students learned about the vast responsibilities of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and how they might themselves become involved.

The students also toured the ACLU of Ohio Columbus Office, where Executive Director J. Benjamin Guess and Anne Ruege ’03 served on a panel with other ACLU staff members. Here, they learned about the lobbying, legal, and educational work that the ACLU conducts.

Students concluded their day in Columbus with a site visit at the Legal Aid Society of Columbus/Southeastern Ohio Legal Services. There, they met with attorneys Dianna Parker-Howie, Melissa Skilliter, and Mellissa Will. Students learned about the history of Legal Aid, the work performed by Legal Aid attorneys, and the unique challenges and opportunities that exist for students working in Appalachia.

Shown here outside the Supreme Court, with giant gavel.

Institute students visited several key sites in Columbus, including the Supreme Court of Ohio.

“It was really cool to see what these places really do, how many people work there, and all of the job opportunities that they offer,” says Haley Williams, a sophomore at South Webster High School. “We got to meet many very intelligent speakers who went to law school and who are now working with the law in so many different ways. This definitely helped me realize what kinds of law I am and am not interested in studying.”

Learning About the Needs of Appalachians

The Summer Law and Trial Institute particularly highlights legal issues that are relevant to Appalachia and its residents. On the first day of the students’ classes, Hayman leads a session that helps familiarize students with Appalachians’ concerns and the resources available to those who need legal assistance.

Row of students seated at table

Students enjoyed asking questions about law and learning about Southeastern Ohio’s needs

“I applied to SLTI because [even though] I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to make a difference,” says Trinity Jones. Indeed, many SLTI students remark that they are specifically interested in helping their communities, especially serving the Southeast Ohio area and learning about the needs of residents.

“I would like to practice child advocacy law relating to issues that are prevalent in rural Appalachia, including but not limited to the opioid epidemic, children who live in broken homes, and child poverty,” says Ryan Craig. “I applied to SLTI to better my knowledge of the law so I can use it to more effectively serve my community in the future. Understanding these hot button issues is the first step in being able to combat societal problems,” he adds.

Elizabeth Sexton echoes Craig’s sentiment and demonstrates an interest in serving her community. “I applied because I wanted to see how I could use law to help my community. Eventually I would love to practice nonprofit law. I feel very passionate about helping people in poverty. Combining my passions and interests into a job would be a dream come true.”

Students prepare for their mock trial, sitting around table.

Students prepare for their mock trial.

Mock Trial Puts Students’ Skills to the Test

Each year, the institute culminates in a mock trial in which the students take on the roles of prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, and witnesses.

The mock trial takes place in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas before Athens County Common Pleas Judge George McCarthy, an exciting opportunity for students to put their newly acquired legal knowledge to the test in a real courtroom. Members of the 2018 Fellow Class of the Ohio State Bar Foundation, as well as foundation President Carol Seubert Marx, traveled to Athens to serve as jurors for the mock trials.

Both trials ended in acquittals of the defendant.

“I initially applied to the Summer Law & Trial Institute to prepare myself for the mock trial seasons ahead and to better [my] understanding of the law. I saw it as a fun opportunity to meet more people and [improve] the mock trial skills that will eventually lead me to become a real-life attorney,” says Sydney Lohr.

The Ohio University Mock Trial Team conducted a trial demonstration for the institute students, who had the last three days of the program to prepare for their mock trial before making their case in the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.

“Our mock trial was one of my favorite SLTI [experiences],” says Haley Williams. “It took a lot of time and effort. This showed me how much dedication this profession can take and how much you have to prepare if you want to be successful.”

Students working toward Friday's mock trial, sitting in classroom.

Students working toward Friday’s mock trial,

Current Students Gaining Internship Experience 

Hayman was assisted this summer by two interns, OHIO undergraduates Kristin Tate and Taryn Osborne. Tate, who will be a junior this fall, is studying Political Science Pre-Law and Sociology-Criminology, in addition to a Certificate in Law, Justice & Culture. Osborne, who will be a senior, is studying Political Science Pre-Law with a minor in Spanish. Like Tate, Osborne is completing OHIO’s Certificate in Law, Justice, & Culture.

“My favorite part of SLTI has been the passion I’ve seen from everybody involved, whether you look at the eagerness and knowledge of the guest speakers […] or the dedication shown by Mr. Hayman, Taryn Osborne, and Kristin Tate, who manage our daily schedules and make this program as amazing as it possibly can be. My favorite thing has been everything!” says Ryan Craig, a senior at Western Brown High School in Mt. Orab, Ohio, who commended the undergraduate program assistants.

Tate is interested in practicing civil rights law, perhaps with the ACLU, or becoming a trial lawyer. Osborne is narrowing down her career choices and notes that SLTI, with its wide range of speakers, has helped her determine the areas of law most interests her. Both Tate and Osborne note how thoroughly they enjoy helping potential pre-law students—and especially working alongside Hayman.

From left, interns Kristin Tate and Taryn Osborne

From left, interns Kristin Tate and Taryn Osborne

“Working with Larry is great!” Tate says. “It doesn’t matter what the project is; if Larry is involved, I want to be involved,” she adds.

Osborne agrees: “I’ll work on any project that Larry leads,” she remarks. Osborne, who is president of OHIO’s Mock Trial Team, also serves as the learning community leader for Hayman’s Pre-Law Freshman Seminar.

“Taryn and Kristin have been outstanding program assistants and are an invaluable part of the participants’ SLTI experience. Spending a great deal of time with the high school students over two weeks, Taryn and Kristin have taught them dedication, professionalism, confidence, independence, and maturity by their example,” Hayman said. “They kept the program running smoothly and stood as outstanding examples of Ohio University pre-law students.”

Several SLTI students cite Tate and Osborne as being tremendously helpful throughout the two weeks they spent on Ohio University’s campus.

“One of the biggest things that the Summer Law and Trial Institute taught me was to be able to get outside of my comfort zone. For example, we had to give a speech without any notes, which is something I would never have done without the encouragement I received from Larry Hayman, Taryn Osborne, and Kristin Tate, as well as the other students who believed I could do it,” says Lohr.

From left, Taryn Osborne and Ellen Gill. Gill attended the first SLTI and is starting as an OHIO freshman the fall as an English Pre-Law major and and a Cutler Scholar.

From left, Taryn Osborne and Ellen Gill presenting to the Ohio State Bar Foundation. Gill attended the first SLTI and is starting as an OHIO freshman the fall as an English Pre-Law major and and a Cutler Scholar.

OHIO’s Lasting Impression

An additional benefit of the Summer Law & Trial Institute is the familiarity students gain with OHIO itself. They live in the university’s residence halls, dine in Nelson Hall, and have classes in Tupper Hall. The students are delighted to get a taste of university life.

“While I was at Ohio University, I fell in love with the campus and everything that The Center for Law, Justice, and Culture has to offer,” Lohr remarks.  “I have discovered that law is definitely something I want to pursue.”

2018 Summer Law and Trial Institute students at the Class Gateway

2018 Summer Law and Trial Institute students

Jones, too, wants to make OHIO her college home. “My plans are to major in Sociology through the Honors Tutorial College of Ohio University and minor in Physiology. After that I would like to attend the University of Toledo College of Law to pursue a career in family law.”

Jones adds that she would recommend SLTI to high school students who want to major in Pre-Law but don’t quite know how to narrow down or pursue their interests.

“SLTI was such a wonderful experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Williams concurs. “This was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I will cherish the things I learned, the friends I made, and the experiences there forever.”

Funding and Other Support

The Summer Law & Trial Institute is made possible, in part, from a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and does not necessarily represent its views. Other financial contributors include McNees, Wallace & Nurick, LLC and Drs. Bradley and Cynthia Dougherty. SLTI participants attend the program free of charge because of this generosity.

The institute, which is coordinated by the Center for Law Justice & Culture, is a collaboration of the legal community, academia, state and local government, and non-governmental organizations including the Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences, Athens County Court of Common Pleas, Athens County Municipal Court, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, the Supreme Court of Ohio, Ohio State Bar Foundation, Athens County Prosecutor’s Office, Athens City Attorney’s Office, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Ohio State Public Defender’s Office, Athens County Prison Reentry Program, Ohio University Office of Legal Affairs, Ohio University Mock Trial Team, Ohio University Honors Tutorial College, Court of Appeals of Ohio-Eighth Appellate District, the Law Firm of Dagger, Johnston, Miller Ogivile & Hampson, Lavelle & Associates, Serenity Grove, Passionworks, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Law Office of Margaret A. Smith Replogle, the Law Office of Karyn Justice, LLC, the Law Office of Spater & Davis-Williams, Ohio University Cutler Scholars Program, and the Ohio Innocence Project.

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