Students from several local high schools lived out their own courtroom dramas Friday during the 2017 Ohio High School Mock Trial Competition.
The competition was held in the courtrooms at the juvenile and probate court at the Hayes Building and featured seven teams: one from Delaware Hayes, one from Big Walnut, one from Olentangy Orange, two from Westerville North and two from Village Academy.
On Friday the teams participated in several mock trials in a session in the morning and afternoon.
Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge David Gormley has been assisting and organizing the Delaware competition for seven years.
Gormley said earlier this month that participants are given written materials that enable them to play attorneys and witnesses on both sides of a fictional legal dispute.
The case centered around a defamation claim by made by a fictional former governor against an online newspaper. In the case the newspaper posted a news story online and implied that the former governor had killed a high school principal. The story, while not accurate, went viral and ended up costing the governor the re-election campaign.
As the plaintiff, students argued that the newspaper acted with reckless disregard for the truth and that the incorrect story damaged his reputation and caused him to lose the election. As the defendants, students have to refute this argument.
The mock trial proceeds much the same way a real trial does and includes swearing in of witnesses, admission of evidence and objections. When students object they also have to argue why their position is the correct one. The judges in the cases are played by local attorneys who have volunteered to hear the cases.
Gormley said students who participate in the mock-trial competition learn firsthand about the law and about court procedures, and they build analytic and communication skills.
“The kinds of skills the students trial lawyers need are the same skills students can develop in this program,” Gormley said. He said competitors and trial attorneys both need to mix a knowledge of the facts and flair to make a convincing argument. “Good trial lawyers are good storytellers.”
After a day of mock trials, both teams from Westerville North and one team from Big Walnut were victorious and will advance to regional competition on Feb. 10. The state finals are March 9-11 in Columbus.
Statewide the competition includes more than 3,500 high school students annually.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.