By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport Madison High School students are laying down the law.
The school’s Mock Trial academic team participated in a mock trial competition at the Municipal Court Building in Columbus on Jan. 31.
“The students receive a case that is hundreds of pages long,” said Groveport Madison High School teacher and team advisor Kelli DelGuzzo. “They must apply all of the skills they have learned to dissect the case then prepare for the trial.”
It’s the fifth consecutive year for Groveport Madison in the competition.
“We fielded two teams last year, but settled on one strong team this year,” said DelGuzzo.
Team members are: prosecution attorneys: Brandon Hackenberg, Elisha Stauffer; prosecution witnesses: Alexandria Goodwin and Amber Nunez; defense attorneys: Michael Edwards, Caleb West; defense witnesses: Brandon Hackenberg and Eli Schleret; and timekeepers Victoria Hockenhull and Jazzmond Jackson. (Hackenberg performs two roles.)
DelGuzzo said preparation for the mock trial begins in September.
“Students must try-out for the team. They must prepare an opening or closing and field questions from me about the case,” said DelGuzzo. “This season we practiced two times a week. The students also work as a team outside of scheduled practices and individually on their part in the trial.”
According to DelGuzzo, as attorneys, the students must prepare direct and cross examination questions, opening and closing statements and be ready to make objections.
“They have to know the case, inside out, and understand the constitutional issues as well as the relevant case law attached to the case itself,” said DelGuzzo.
Hackenberg said television shows about lawyers do not accurately depict the court room experience.
“Those programs show people arguing,” said Hackenberg. “People don’t realize how technical the reality of the court room is. There’s a lot of preparation involved in researching and analyzing old cases.”
Hackenberg said his role as prosecutor is an enlightening experience.
“It is interesting to be in control of the court room with everyone watching as you direct witnesses and present the case,” said Hackenberg. “It’s like you’re the most important person in the room.”
DelGuzzo said witnesses must take on the role of the person, know the story, and be prepared to testify in court.
“Cross examination is the toughest part because you don’t know what to expect,” said DelGuzzo. “You have to be confident in your role and story so that you don’t get defensive on the stand or get tripped up by the other side.”
Goodwin enjoys portraying a witness and said the mock trial experience is teaching her to think quickly on her feet.
“I like being able to become a character and fully be that person on the witness stand,” said Goodwin. “You must think and react like the witness you are portraying would. You have to be them.”
According to DelGuzzo, the combination of academics and competition is what makes Mock Trial unique.
“Students love the experience,” said DelGuzzo. “We have a great time preparing for the case and learn a lot together. Many of the participants are considering majoring in pre-law or something similar, but many are also just interested in the competition.”
She said the team works closely with its legal advisor, Nita Hanson, from Dinsmore & Sholl.
“She is an integral part of the process and we could not do this without her,” said DelGuzzo.
The mock trial case
Groveport Madison Mock Trial team tackled the case of “Phillips School District v. Jesse Springfield, et al.” According to the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, in the case Phillips High School agrees to license naming rights of its field to a large corporation. In response, students organize protests both in school and on the field. The school district responds by installing security cameras, searching lockers of the students involved and filing a lawsuit seeking an order authorizing the school to remove the students from the field. The students claim the school district’s actions violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights.