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Courtroom experience through mock trial

Pioneers to compete in regionals Saturday, March 2


For weeks, 33 students have perfected their prosecution and counter-arguments, honed during late night study sessions and on weekends.

They’ve been coached by Portland-area attorneys, learning the ins and outs of “State of Oregon v. Taylor Durden.”

But this isn’t law school.

This is mock trial, a program through Classroom Law Project that offers high school students first-hand courtroom experience.

by: POST PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Sandy students collaborate with Karen Mockrin, a volunteer attorney from Tualatin.

“Mock trial is really unbelievable and unmatched as an activity,” said Wade Lockett, a teacher and mock trial coach at Sandy High School. “These are skills that are going to benefit students regardless of what they pursue in their future.”

The Oregon Mock Trial Competition is in its 27th year, but Sandy High School began its program five years ago.

Lockett always had a keen interest in teaching his students about the constitution and criminal justice.

In his law and justice class during the 2007-08 school year, Lockett received an invitation from the Classroom Law Project for his students to participate in mock trial.

The first year proved a huge learning opportunity — Sandy High faced off with West Linn, a school that had gone to nationals the year prior — but the Pioneers weren’t deterred.

Lockett recalls one of his students getting stonewalled by a witness and looking to him for advice. There was nothing he could do.

“You can’t even look at your coach,” Lockett said. “You’re on your own up there. That two seconds in time was the most difficult, isolated moment in my entire teaching career.”

But students still wanted to go into the next round of the mock trial competition.

by: POST PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Sandy students prepare for mock trial regionals, which will be held Saturday, March 2.

“From that moment on, the program has sprung forward,” Lockett said.

For the first time, the Pioneers hosted the Sandy Invitational on Saturday, Feb. 23, an opportunity for 150 students from six schools to gain critical feedback before proceeding to mock trial regionals this weekend.

In mock trial, students face the difficult task of determining what facts are relevant and what legal arguments are effective, crafting arguments as judges, lawyers and juries.

Minutes before the regional competition Saturday, March 2, students will learn whether they will argue for the plaintiff or the defendant of a fictitious case. After three rounds, volunteer judges will rule on the case.

“It’s amazing how much we’ve grown,” said Marie Schmitz, a Sandy High senior. “At first I had stage fright, but now it’s so much easier.”

This year’s mock trial team includes a class of 28 students and five students who study independently, a combined mix of first-year participants and graduating seniors.

by: POST PHOTO: LISA K. ANDERSON - Kavi Warner and Justin Adams, seniors, have participated in mock trial since their freshmen year and say the program will influence their future in numerous ways.

Among the veterans are seniors Kavi Warner and Justin Adams.

“I’ve been more attentive to the little details that make up why things happen,” Warner said. “We’re a really competitive team, but we also like to have a good time. I find that we hold our heads high under pressure.”

Warner’s involvement in mock trial the past four years has changed her career goal of becoming a cop to becoming a defender.

“The hardest part of the program is figuring out what the other team will dish at you,” Warner said.

In college, Adams intends to pursue medicine while participating in athletics, but he said mock trial aided him significantly with broader life skills.

“It has helped to speak in public, especially under pressure — with communication skills and the ability to think on the spot,” Adams said.

The Sandy mock trial team is entering regionals this weekend, hopeful for a shot at state and already looking ahead to hosting the second Sandy Invitational next year.

“We’ve built a program we’re very proud of,” Lockett said.