Mock trial uses examples from today’s headlines

STEUBENVILLE – Two mock trials Thursday organized by the Jefferson County Bar Association at the Jefferson County Justice Center used issues ripped from today’s headlines for its annual event.

The trials, both held on Law Day – declared so by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 – examined the issues of Constitutional law using local high school students and real attorneys and judges. Students involved this year were from the Jefferson County Joint Vocational School; Steubenville High School; and Buckeye Local High School. The idea was to demonstrate to students how the law works in a real-world situation, according to Dillonvale county court Judge David Scarpone, attorney and president of the Jefferson County Bar Association.

“I think the main objective is to have these young people experience courthouse procedures,” said Scarpone, adding the courtroom is where civilized society settles its disputes. “We look at it as an experience rather than a competition. (Students) play the part of attorneys and witnesses.”

Both mock trials revolved around a situation where students had formed an Occupy group and a “tent city” at the stadium of the fictional Phillips School District, protesting the district contracting with the fictional NFC Corp. to provide food services for the district, according to Scarpone. The fictional district – with attorneys and witnesses played by JVS students acting as the plaintiff -was asking a three-panel judgeship to issue an injunction against the protesters, contending they were disrupting the educational experience at the high school. The defense attorneys attorneys and witnesses – played by students of Steubenville High School – made an argument the fictional district was violating the students’ rights of free speech and were, in turn, asking for their own injunction against the district to allow Occupy to continue its protest.

Scarpone said the judges would have to weigh the arguments of where Constitutional rights of free speech and the school’s rights begin and end.

“(The students) pick the witnesses that would best represent the case for them,” said Scarpone. “The (mock trials) bring up some interesting Constitutional questions.”

The event began with a welcome from Scarpone, who also awarded a plaque of appreciation to Cherie Metcalf, educator and mock trial adviser at Steubenville High School, for her years of helping organizing the trials. He also expressed gratitude to Ardis Stein, bar secretary, for her role in helping organize the event.

The first trial began with three judges, including attorney Michelle Miller; Toronto county court Judge Joseph Corabi; and Ohio 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Mary DeGenaro, overseeing the case. Each side was given 25 minutes to present their case, as well as time for opening and closing remarks. Each side also called two witnesses to bolster their case.

The fictional Phillips School District argued the Occupy movement at the school was disrupting the educational process by posting fliers in the hall and camping at the stadium as part of its protest. Attorneys for the fictional defendant argued they had a Constitutional right to protest, even if it meant disobeying the school’s student handbook. Attorneys for the defendant also cited judicial precedent for their arguments to prove the rights guaranteed by the Constitution superseded the student handbook guidelines. Even social media commentary from Facebook and Twitter were offered as evidence during the first trial.

Attorneys for each side also had the right to cross exam the other side’s witnesses and even offer objections. After closing arguments, judges retired to their quarters to deliberate. Although the judges offered no ruling on the case, they did critique how students performed during the trials.

The second trial included students from Steubenville High School acting as the plaintiffs, while students from Buckeye Local acted as the defendants. Judges for the second trial included attorney Craig Allen; attorney Eric Reszke; and Wintersville county court Judge Michael Bednar.

Students later were treated to a pizza lunch and a tour of the justice center. Metcalf said she believes the experience was a positive one for students.

“I think students learned their rights as citizens,” she said, adding students learned to recognize facts before opinions. “They have to know the law and case law of the past.”

(Miller can be contacted at mmiller@heraldstaronline.com)