Litigation education: Local high schools students participate in mock trial

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The attorneys who appeared before Judge Robert Lewis on Thursday afternoon received something few litigants ever do from a judge: A standing ovation.

They had sparred over whether a racing bicyclist nicknamed “Menacin’ Tennyson” was guilty of life insurance fraud because she was partaking in dangerous behavior at the time of her death, which would have violated terms of her insurance policy.

Instead of a verdict, the judge gave the attorneys applause. The life insurance scenario was fictitious and the crux of the trial was how well the litigants could explain facts of the case, introduce evidence and cite case law.

After the two-hour trial, the judge gave them a thumbs-up, but still offered the nervous-looking rookies dressed in business suits a few pointers.

“First and foremost, find ways to slow down,” Lewis said. “Get down to the heart of a case to what a jury really wants to know.”

The “attorneys” were students from Hudson’s Bay High School and Columbia High School in White Salmon participating in the annual district mock trial tournament at the Clark County Courthouse.

The tournament began Wednesday with 10 teams from seven area schools competing in six rounds. In addition to Bay and Columbia, the schools included Camas, Fort Vancouver, Ridgefield, Seton Catholic and Stevenson high schools.

At the end of the competition, Ridgefield came in first in Division One, with the Camas Black team in second, while Fort Vancouver’s A Team placed first in Division Two, followed by the Camas White team in second. Those top four teams are expected to be invited to compete March 23-25 at the State Mock Trial tournament at the Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia.

The tournament’s Best Attorney honors went to Kat Brewer of Hudson’s Bay High School, while five students tied for the Best Witnesses honor: Laura Peters of Seton Catholic, Alastair Graham of Camas, Naima Alver of Fort Vancouver, Eden Pollock of Camas and Tiffani Wherli of Stevenson.

Hudson’s Bay wins case

Each year, the students are given a legal case and each student plays a role. They must go through the standard court process: pre-trial motions, opening statements, calling witnesses to the stand and making closing arguments.

The issue of Thursday’s trial was whether the fictitious defendant, Tennyson, violated terms of her life insurance policy by taking part in extremely dangerous behavior: alley bicycle racing.

The three “jurors,” local practicing attorneys, ruled that Tennyson was not guilty of racing, meaning the family could collect on the life insurance policy.

Hudson’s Bay, representing the defendant, won the case, but practicing attorney Winnie Clements told the students they all shined. She said it usually takes a lawyer 25 trials to become comfortable in the courtroom.

“Some of you did better than me in my first trials,” she said. “I think you would all do well in law school.”

Surprisingly, that wasn’t the mission of all the aspiring attorneys. Hudson’s Bay senior Luke Johnson, who played one of Tennyson’s attorneys, said afterward he actually wants to study cardiology when he attends college next year.

A three-year veteran of mock trial, Johnson said his first years were spent playing a witness and a bailiff. Being an attorney is a lot of work, he said, but it’s still fun.

“At first, I thought it was boring,” he said. “But it gets really interesting.”

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.