Mock trial addresses real issues

Local high school students stage domestic terrorism plot case

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

 

Federal prosecutors had to prove that Hutaree Jones, leader of a Sovereign Citizens group, masterminded a domestic terrorism plot to blow a hole in a ferry filled with 1,189 U.S. Navy officers and other passengers crossing the bay to Cedar, Wash.

Defense attorneys claimed that the FBI entrapped their client and that the real mastermind was the FBI's informant, who fashioned the bombs in the plot.

Instead of a verdict, Clark County Superior Court Judge Daniel Stahnke and a "jury" gave the attorneys feedback on how well they presented their fictitious case, introduced evidence and cited case law.

The "attorneys" were students from Fort Vancouver and Ridgefield high schools participating Thursday in the annual district mock trial tournament at the Clark County Courthouse; the jury was a panel of three local attorneys.

The tournament began Wednesday with 10 teams from seven local schools competing in several rounds. In addition to Fort Vancouver and Ridgefield, the schools included Camas, Clark County Skills Center, Columbia in White Salmon, Hudson's Bay and Seton Catholic.

Some of the winners will be invited to compete March 22-24 at the State Mock Trial tournament at the Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia, said Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis, a mock trial organizer.

Each year, Mock Trial participants around the state receive an identical legal case from the event's organizer, Washington YMCA Youth & Government. Each student plays a role as an attorney or witness. The attorneys must perform the standard court process: pretrial motions, opening statements, questioning witnesses and closing arguments.

In this year's case, titled "The Last Ferry," Jones, played by Ridgefield junior Andrew Rath, leads a group of Sovereign Citizens, who believe local, state and federal governments are illegitimate and that they are not required to pay taxes or obey law enforcement. He is allegedly overseeing construction of bombs on his 50-acre compound and enlists the help of electrician Sage Annandale, played by Fort Vancouver student Lisa Spangler. After Annandale's fingerprints are found on a backpack bomb found at the site of a 2011 Martin Luther King Day parade in Cedar, she agrees to serve as the FBI's informant.

At the end of the trial, Judge Stahnke said none of the attorneys had clarified what the actual charges against Jones were, and he advised them to make sure the jury has a clear understanding of each charge during opening statements.

Ridgefield senior Tamara Gage, who played a defense attorney, said she would use that feedback to improve her next round later Thursday.

Students begin preparing for the mock trial in October.

Ridgefield junior Zach Southwell-Peace seemed to effortlessly rattle off case law during a motion to exclude testimony of a domestic terrorism expert, which he felt would be prejudicial. He lost his bid to exclude the motion, but he won praise from Judge Stahnke.

"Zach did an outstanding job on pretrial motions," Stahnke said.

"It's fun to watch," said Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Jim David. "I've seen a lot of them do better than lawyers because a lot of lawyers don't have that kind of time to put into it."

But not all of the students want to be lawyers.

Gage said mock trial has improved her public speaking skills, and she'll need them. She wants to be a professor of economics.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.