The Hayes Building was the site of a legal showdown Friday as 10 local high school teams competed in the 2020 Ohio High School Mock Trial Competition.
The statewide competition includes more than 3,000 students who participate by acting as lawyers and witnesses, and arguing one side of a fictional case.
Locally, Big Walnut High School, Buckeye Valley High School, Delaware Hayes High School, Westerville Central High School, Westerville North High School, Dublin Jerome High School and Fairbanks High School took part in the competition, which centered around a case of a high school student seeking damages from his school for allegedly infringing on his right to free speech.
Mackenzie Collett, a junior at Hayes, played an attorney during the competition. She got involved in the mock trial because one day she wants to be an appellate judge and thinks the competition is a great way to gain experience in the legal system.
“Even if you aren’t going into law this is really good for public speaking, standing your ground, and understanding current affairs,” Collett said. “Mock trial can apply anywhere. Going into law is something I’ve wanted since kindergarten. I’ll take any chance I can to get involved.”
Collett said she and four other members were the only veterans of the team, which didn’t include any seniors.
“This year we started with five returning members and we’ve had to build the team and get people interested in the school,” Collett said. “We made sure everyone was prepared this year.”
Another returning member this year was Jackson Collins, also a junior, who won the “Best Witness” award for the second time in two years, which he said was a surprise.
“It felt pretty good,” Collins said. “I didn’t think I was going to get it this year.”
Collins said he joined the team for several reasons, and he’s very involved in theater and saw it as an acting exercise.
“Theater has definitely helped me prepare for this,” Collins said. “It really helped me get that character to become that person. (I joined because it’s an acting exercise, and also my mom is a lawyer and was like, ‘Oh my god, you should do mock trial.’”
Newcomer Holly Hornberger, a sophomore, said her end goal is to one day be a senator and saw this as a great way to gain experience with the law.
“I didn’t know if I was going to love doing it, but ultimately, this is something I want to do when I grow up,” Hornberger said. “It’s really fun, and it’s a great experience. My favorite part is arguing. Doing this gives me experience I can use in the future.”
Collett said the team was sponsored this year and last year by the local law office Thomas and Company.
“We’re very thankful for Thomas and Co.,” Collett said. “This is the second year they’ve sponsored us. They’ve come every Wednesday with two lawyers. They give up their time to volunteer and teach us. We wouldn’t be at this point without them.”
Ceara M. Carney, one of the attorneys from Thomas and Company who taught the students, said she was impressed by the team’s performance.
“They were wonderful,” Carney said. “They were so willing to work and put in the time. I’m really proud of them. They did a wonderful job.”
The competitions are presided over by local attorneys, and in the afternoon, Hayes competed against a team from Dublin Jerome and were arguing to former Delaware Municipal Court David Sunderman, who praised both teams.
“It was so evident how well everyone prepared,” Sunderman told the teams. “You had great presence. It’s very evident you put your heart and soul into this.”
Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel praised the witnesses in the case, adding she wished witnesses in her cases were as prepared as the students.
After the teams returned home, the competitions organizer, Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley, reported that the teams from Buckeye Valley, Westerville North and one of the Dublin Jerome teams had won both their cases and would be advancing to the regional competition on Feb. 7. The state finals are March 12-14 in Columbus.
The annual high school mock trial competition is sponsored by a nonprofit organization called the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education (OCLRE), which in turn is funded by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Ohio Attorney General’s Ofice, the Supreme Court of Ohio, and the ACLU of Ohio. OCLRE also offers other programs designed to motivate young people to learn more about civics, government, and the law.