(Posted March 21, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
West Jefferson High School’s mock trial team has the chops to tackle big cases against tough competition.
For the second time in five years, the 10-student team qualified for the Ohio Mock Trial Competition. This year’s contest took place March 10-12 in Columbus.
“There were 350 teams to start in Ohio, and 37 made it to state,” said Jenny Siddiqi, the team’s advisor. West Jefferson first competed at state in 2013, just two years after joining the competition circuit.
This year’s team of three sophomores, one junior, and six seniors won district and regional competitions to advance to state. At the big show, they won their first round, but lost the subsequent round, leaving the competition on the first day.
“We’re really happy with how we did,” said Hope Lewis, a sophomore who served as one of the team’s prosecuting attorneys. “This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for us, but it turned out to be one of the best years we’ve had.”
Of the 10 students on the team, only one had previous experience in competition. Sophomore Thomas Farbacher was a witness for the prosecution last year. This year, he was co-counsel with Lewis.
As for the secret to the fledgling team’s success, Farbacher said, “It was the crazy amount of work we put in.”
The team got this year’s competition case in September. Each year, the program’s sponsor, the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, writes an original case based on a relevant constitutional issue. Students must prepare arguments for both prosecution and defense.
The 2016 case involved fictitious defendant Officer Green, charged with felonious assault after using deadly force against a juvenile accused of armed robbery. The case focused on Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as it applies to use of force by an officer to deter or eliminate threat of harm to the officer or the public.
All of West Jefferson’s team members are students in Siddiqi’s advanced trial procedures class. Five served on the prosecution: Lewis and Farbacher as attorneys; Savannah Bell, Tonya Conway and Samantha Walton as witnesses. Five served on the defense: Madeline Jennings and Rachel Maynard as attorneys; McKayla Crosby, Mary Greenwood and Mary Kronk as witnesses.
To prepare, the attorneys studied case law, chose themes on which to base their arguments, and rehearsed their opening and closing statements and direct and cross examinations. With help from a drama coach, the witnesses developed their characters. Marla Farbacher, an assistant prosecutor in Franklin County, served as the team’s legal advisor.
“We met a lot after school to practice,” Thomas Farbacher said. “We also shared ideas on Google Drive. So, even if we weren’t meeting, we were still working on mock trial together.”
Siddiqi praises the Ohio Mock Trial program as a “fantastic” way for students to not only learn about the law, but also hone public speaking skills and learn to think quickly on their feet.
“They also learn how to work together,” she said. “We have different ages involved, so they don’t necessarily know each other well going into it, but they end up developing close friendships.”
The Ohio Center for Law-Related Education is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization whose goal is to improve society by developing citizens empowered with an understanding of the democratic system. The Supreme Court of Ohio, Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Ohio State Bar Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation sponsor the Center. The Ohio Mock Trial program is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.