August 10, 2020 at 4:15 pm

Summer Law & Trial Institute Shifts Experiential Learning, Legal Exploration Online

More than two dozen Ohio University alumni, attorneys and judges helped 20 high school students get a better understanding of the law and its possibilities through the Center for Law, Justice & Culture’s Summer Law & Trial Institute.

Founded in 2016 by CLJC Pre-Law Advisor Larry Hayman, Esq (B.A. Political Science ’03), the program brings high school students to live on the Athens campus to learn about law and justice topics. explore educational and career opportunities related to law, engage in experiential learning, and develop skills necessary for college success. This year the institute went completely virtual due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was really thrilled that we were able to continue the momentum that we have been building over the last five years and to shift SLTI to a virtual format so seamlessly,” said Hayman. “While students were not able to physically be on Ohio University’s campus, they were still challenged to think critically about law and justice challenges in the 21st century, meet with lawyers and judges, explore curricular and co-curricular opportunities at OHIO, and meet with current and recent OHIO students.”

SLTI students meet with Athens City Attorney Lisa Eliason

SLTI students meet with Athens City Attorney Lisa Eliason

Courtroom Observations and Interactive Experiences

Hayman lead the program with two SLTI alumni and current OHIO students, Ellen Gill-Franks and Lori Turner, who served as program assistants.

“In this role, I was able to encourage students to interact with legal professionals and scholars who represent law as a career and as an academic discipline,” said Gill-Franks, who went through the program as a high school student in 2016. “From the first day the students logged into the Teams classroom, to the last day of the program when they presented their capstone mock trial, I was able to watch as they began to recognize their potential to ask critical questions, engage in challenging discourse, and to advocate for their assigned ‘clients.'”

Through the institute, students engage in rigorous academic coursework on law and the American legal system, including learning about the access to justice gap, engaging in plea bargaining, and practicing professionalism and ethics. These sessions include interactive exercises on textual analysis, case briefings, and negotiations.

The program was able to recreate several of the site visits the students usually make, including observing an oral argument at the Supreme Court of Ohio, meeting with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, and virtually visiting the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor met virtually with SLTI.

Networking with OHIO alumni and friends in legal fields

As in past years, dozens of alumni and friends in legal careers joined the Institute to share their wisdom and skills with the program participants.  For example, Athens Chief City Prosecutor Tracy Meek, Esq. (’03 Political Communication) and criminal defense attorney Margaret “Peggy” Smith Replogle, Esq. (’93 Political Science) taught students about their respective roles in the criminal justice system.

Similarly, students were able to learn about plea bargaining from Athens County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Glenn Jones, Esq. and Attorney Karyn Justice, a criminal defense lawyer from Portsmouth. The students were then divided into groups of prosecutors and defense attorneys, each with their own confidential “client information” and engaged in negotiating and plea bargaining.

Students were also given the opportunity to meet with various representatives of organizations across Ohio and the world, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, Equality Ohio, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the Ohio Innocence Project, and many others.

Sandra Anderson provides feedback on the students' Direct and Cross Examination

Sandra Anderson provides feedback on the students’ Direct and Cross Examination.

In addition to exploring a myriad of law and justice issues, the students learned how to put on a virtual mock trial. After observing demonstrations by the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, students learned the component parts of a trial. Former Board of Trustees Chair Sandra J. Anderson, Esq. (’73 Journalism) taught the students the difference between Direct Examination and Cross Examination and how to do each. Amy Flowers, Esq. (’05 Political Science) taught Trial Decorum while Athens County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Saunders (’08 Political Science) taught the Rules of Evidence and Objections. Athens City Attorney Lisa Eliason (’76 Education) closed out the trial practice portion of the program by teaching the students how to write and deliver a Closing Argument.

At the end of the first week of the program, students tried out for different roles for the capstone mock trial experiences. Ultimately, the students were divided into four teams, two prosecution teams and two defense teams, with two attorneys and three witnesses per team. They then spent the weekend formulating their cases for trial in the case of New Columbia v. Chris Archer, which they presented on Monday, July 27, in a virtual courtroom.

CLJC Director Dr. Smoki Musaraj joins SLTI

CLJC Director Dr. Smoki Musaraj joins SLTI

Jessica Branner, Esq. (’10 Political Science) served as judge during the first of the two trials.  This was her third year participating in the program.

“I always enjoy working with the SLTI students because they are well-prepared and eager to learn. Having the opportunity to ‘practice’ as a real attorney in a courtroom setting is an invaluable and inspirational experience and I always appreciate being a part of the program,” Branner said.

After receiving remarks from Branner on their performance in the first trial, the second prosecution and defense teams presented their cases. Marisa Saber, Esq., (’03 Political Science) an attorney at the Chicago law firm of Cozen O’Connor, served as a judge for the second of the capstone mock trials.

“I was so impressed with the participants’ ability to present a mock trial virtually,” Saber said. “The students were all very well prepared and handled the presentation with ease. The ‘lawyers’ presenting and defending their case did a great job with presenting and questioning virtually, and introducing exhibits, and the ‘witnesses’ were all fantastic in conveying their characters on a virtual platform.”

At the conclusion of the cases, the matter was then sent to a virtual jury, both of whom found the defendant not guilty of the most serious charge of first degree murder, but guilty on the charge of criminal hazing.

Students participate in Summer Law and Trial Institute

Students participate in Summer Law and Trial Institute.

Educational and Career Exploration

The students’ experiences also included educational and career exploration.  Dr. Smoki Musaraj, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, joined the students to talk with them about different opportunities available for undergraduate and graduate study through CLJC.  The students also participated in panel discussions with both current lawyers and law students.

The first panel, “What Can I Do With A Law Degree?” featured Robert Foehl, Esq., (’91 Business), Barbara Nalazak, Esq., Brenda Noftz, Esq. (’78 Education).and Pierce Reed, Esq. (’86 Psychology).  The panelists spoke about their variety of experiences, including time they spent as prosecutors, corporate in-house counsels, lobbyists, government attorneys, in academia, as judicial attorneys and more.

The second panel featured recent Ohio University alumni who are currently in law school. The law students provided insight to the program participants interested in pursuing pre-law opportunities at OHIO, including the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, various student organizations, the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, internship experiences, and others.  The panel included Ryan Crowley (’19 History) a rising 2L at Delaware Law School, Alexa Jesser (’18 Psychology and Political Science with LJC Certificate), a rising 3L at University of Cincinnati, Taryn Osborne (’19 Political Science Pre-Law, Spanish minor, LJC Certificate), a rising 2L at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Gabrielle Tharp (’20 M.A. in Law, Justice & Culture, ’19 Political Science and History) a current 1L at the University of Colorado, and Lydia Wendel (’20 Political Science Pre-Law, Anthropology minor, LJC Certificate) a current 1L at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

The program participants were able to meet with Athens County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick Lang (’99 Political Science), who joined from his courtroom to explain the role of a judge and to answer questions that they had. They were also able to learn about the role of legal support professionals, from current M.A. in Law, Justice & Culture student Miranda West (’18 Legal Studies).

At the conclusion of the program, students were required to participate in a post-program survey.  They expressed overwhelmingly positive feedback about their experience in the program, and collectively expressed an increased interest in pursuing a legal career and attending Ohio University as a result of their experiences.

The Summer Law & Trial Institute was free to all students and made possible by a generous donation from the Athens County Bar Association as well as donations from OHIO alumni.

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