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Marysville students compete in mock trial
MARYSVILLE — The attorneys presenting their cases in Judge Fred Gillings’ courtroom at the Marysville Municipal Court on Thursday, Feb. 2, hadn’t even graduated from high school, but the professionalism and preparation they demonstrated earned them plaudits from not only Gillings, but also the jurors who heard their cases.
Two teams of eighth-grade students from the 10th Street School in Marysville competed against opposing teams of ninth-graders from Archbishop Murphy High School in a YMCA Youth and Government Mock Trial.
Each team of attorneys included its own complement of student witnesses, and all of the students had spent at least the past couple of months memorizing their scripts from the practice cases that they would be presenting before both Gillings and a panel that included actual adult attorneys.
Ximena West, an attorney for 20 years, complimented student attorneys Natasha Flitz and Alan White of 10th Street for their effective techniques at the close of the morning’s mock trial.
“Natasha, you did great in the pretrial because you really knew your statutes,” West said. “Alan, the way you stuck with that one witness with your questions about the tires, and didn’t let it confuse you, was really good.”
All the mock trial jurors that morning agreed the two sets of student attorneys had done their homework and knew the cases, but suggested that they work on their presentation skills a bit. At the same time that Mitchell Pearson and Laurie Turral took care to commend the students for feats of public speaking that the two adults doubted they would have been able to accomplish when they were the same age as the students, the two jurors joined their peers in encouraging the kids to relax and review their own performances beforehand.
In spite of the praise they received and the time they spent preparing for the mock trial, Flitz and White wished they’d devoted even more than their estimated one to two hours after school every weekday on studying up for it, although they also agreed with the jurors that their public speaking skills could stand improvement as well.
“You have to be able to think on your feet,” Flitz said. “I definitely need to practice talking more.”
“You have to learn all the proper procedures, so that your arguments won’t get overruled,” White said. “My sister did mock trial too, so I feel like I’m carrying on her tradition when we go up against the high school.”
White found the rules of evidence fascinating, while Flitz admitted that she learned a great deal about “how a trial is set up in the formalities.”
Jake Jones, an Archbishop Murphy student attorney who took part in last year’s mock trial as a student witness for 10th Street, credited this year’s mock trial case with educating him on bicycling laws, as well as legal techniques such as asking questions that won’t invite sustained objections and controlling witnesses during cross-examinations.
Marysville’s James DeLazzari, a 10th Street teacher who supervised the students at their mock trial, echoed the students’ own assessment that taking part in such proceedings drives home the differences between trials on TV and in real life.
“There’s no silver bullet,” DeLazzari chuckled. “Both sides have access to all the evidence. The legal system is, in fact, a system, which means that juries can only make decisions based on what you tell them. These kids have learned that, as an attorney, you have to assume a jury is a blank slate, and to teach them how to decide in your favor.”
“I came into this mock trial case cold, and both sides did well at making me understand this issue,” Gillings said at the close of the morning’s mock trial.
DeLazzari added that he believes putting such a learning experience in a performance-based context inspires students to invest every effort into it.
“Being able to perform makes kids reach the next level,” DeLazzari said. “They step up to do their best.”