The Delaware Hayes High School Mock Trial team is moving onto regionals after winning the trials competition Friday at the Rutherford B. Hayes Administrative Building in Delaware.
During the mock trial competition, teams representing schools from Delaware County (Hayes, Big Walnut, Buckeye Valley, Village Academy and Westerville North) and three schools from outside the county (Whetstone in Columbus, Dublin Jerome and West Liberty-Salem) portrayed lawyers and witnesses in a case and were judged on their knowledge of the legal system and execution during the case.
Delaware County Common Pleas Judge David Gormley coordinated Friday’s event and said the teams had to represent both sides of a fictional case. This year, the case centered around a criminal defendant challenging the admittance of a piece of the state’s evidence. Gormley said in the fictional case, a privately operated drone appeared to show the defendant outside next to a notebook with incriminating evidence written on it.
Gormley said the participants had to focus on the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy and if the drone operator is a state actor.
“It’s quite realistic,” Gormley said Friday. Gormley added that suppression hearings like the one in the fictional case are common and take place in a “critical stage” of criminal proceedings.
Gormley said he believes the mock trial competition does more than just introduce students to the legal system.
“The program helps young people to learn how to work in a group,” Gormley said. “(Competitors) learn to communicate effectively and present information in an understandable way. They can be put in unexpected situations and have to think on their feet.”
Gormley added he’s coordinated the program for many years, because he wants student to have the opportunity to learn and try something new.
“I like seeing young people have the opportunity to excel in something other than sports,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with sports, but it’s good to have other programs in school. My school didn’t have academically inclined programs.”
Gormley said he’s also happy to encourage students to look into legal work.
“Anything I can do to develop good lawyers,” Gormley laughed. “I’m happy to encourage that.”
Mary Grace Duffy, a junior at Hayes, and Mackenzie Collett, a sophomore at Hayes, played attorneys in the group and had to question witnesses and learn when and how to object to their opponent’s moves.
“It’s been a way for me to gain an understanding of the court system as a whole,” Collett said. “It’s also given me the opportunity to practice basic life skills.”
Duffy said she was “enthusiastic but intimidated” about the competition.
“It’s cool to have a different role in a government system,” Duffy said. “We’re very lucky (to have this competition).”
Aidan Ferguson, a sophomore, was on the team Friday and played a witness in the case, meaning he had to be questioned by both his team and the other team’s attorney. Ferguson said he’s an actor and enjoyed playing the part.
“I read the testimony to take on the role, but it’s interesting to have to think on your feet,” Ferguson said.
Another witness on the Hayes team, Jamie Hake, said she is not an actor, and the role playing aspect was a challenge for her, especially when she was being questioned by other teams.
“I keep my emotions to myself and talk to the same five people,” Hake joked. “It was different to be a professional. I liked it. It was a good experience.”
Hayes won both trials Friday and have advanced to the regional competition on Feb. 15, along with the team from Buckeye Valley, the team from Village Academy, and one of the two teams from Westerville North.
The state finals are March 7-9 in Columbus.
Gormley said 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 office, 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.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.