Feb. 23, 2018

Mock Trial Team at Arsenal Tech

PRESENTING THE CASE – Arsenal Technical High School students in the Law & Public Policy program and on the school’s mock trial team recently took home several awards during a mock trial competition at the Indianapolis City-County Building. Below, a witness take the stand for questioning.

A hush descended upon the courtroom as the judge pounded the gavel and called her first case: The People vs. Lou Slipps.

Mr. Slipps is a blogger accused of stalking and intimidating a local business owner who runs a ghost tour company. He’s alleged to have done so through a series of blog posts and comments that accused the owner of running a fraudulent company, which caused someone to vandalize and destroy the business.

Taking the Stand at Mock Trial

The People vs. Lou Slipps was a mock trial acted out by 50 student teams from 21 Indiana high schools, including Arsenal Technical and Shortridge. It was part of a competition sponsored by the Indiana Bar Foundation on Feb. 17 at the Indianapolis City-County Building.

Each school received the fictional case file, complete with witness statements and arrest records. Students worked with coaches to explore the pertinent legal principles and devise strategies for both a defense and a prosecution.

But in this competition, there are no winners or losers in the case. There is a judge and several scoring judges, and students are awarded points based on professionalism, preparedness and staying within time limits.

Andrew Howk, an attorney with local law firm Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman, spent several months mentoring and coaching students from Arsenal Tech to prepare for the competition. Howk, who has served as judge and coach for the competition since 2012, is extremely proud of his team.

“This is, by far, the most complicated case I’ve seen in six years,” he said. “And the Tech students tackled it brilliantly.”

Arsenal Tech, which houses IPS’ Law & Public Policy program, offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the legal, public and private law sectors.

“The program challenges students to become leaders, problem-solvers, and active and well-informed citizens in their communities,” said Karen Markman, a Law & Public Policy educator at Tech.

Three years ago, when the program moved from Shortridge to Arsenal Tech, Markman helped develop the curriculum — which is geared toward preparing students for careers as lawyers, judges, police offers, politicians and public policy professionals. Courses include Government, Constitutional Law, Public Policy, Criminal Law and Civil Law. Students are also encouraged to take classes in speech and debate.

This is Markman’s third year coaching students for Indiana’s mock trial competition.

“These students are so good … some as good as real attorneys, I think,” said Markman. “It gives them a wonderful experience learning to argue and think on their feet. Students don’t know which side of the case they’ll be trying until the day of the trial. It’s like going into a play where you know the story, but you have to write your own script.”

Yareli C., a junior at Tech, has been in Markman’s classes since her freshman year. She received a Best Witness Award for her role as “Jay Hull,” an Indiana State Police cyber crimes expert.

Although the case was fictitious, Yareli learned real life lessons from the experience.

“In this case,” Yareli explained, “the victim posted a private picture on social media to be shared with a small group of friends. Someone else posted it on their blog, along with the victim’s personal information, their home address, phone number and email, and it went viral. As a result, people were posting hate comments and threats. It’s scary, but that can happen in real life.

“Nothing you post online is private anymore,” she said. “People can easily access things you’re trying to keep away from the public eye.”

Yareli has enjoyed her mock trial experience and feels it will help her pursue her dream of becoming an FBI agent. “I used to want to be a lawyer, but through the mock trial, I have really enjoyed the investigative work and role play.”

Adeli T., also a junior at Tech, played a lawyer for the defense and the prosecution. “I have had law classes since my freshman year,” she said. “It’s awesome that we actually get to use the information we learn.”

Adeli’s favorite part of mock trial is presenting arguments.

“I love arguing, and I want to go to the (Indiana University) Robert McKinney School of Law one day,” said Adeli, who feels her mock trial experience will help her pursue that dream. “Being able to go in front of a room with kids who are just as passionate about the things I am interested in and real judges who are way more knowledgeable than I am is nerve-wracking, but also rewarding and great preparation for the future.”

Terry C., a junior at Tech, played an attorney for the prosecution, where he researched and interviewed witnesses — skills he hopes to use as a broadcast journalist in the future.

“Doing mock trial has been a great experience,” he said. “It’s really improved my public speaking skills and allowed me to speak my mind in the courtroom. It’s a good acting experience as well. It makes you feel like anything is possible.”

While not all of Markman’s students will become lawyers, she gets satisfaction from knowing that all of them have been exposed to things that will help them in life no matter what career they pursue.

“My job as a teacher is to be a public servant and to provide opportunities to the students I teach,” said Markman. “I think some of these students will take paths in life because they had this opportunity.”

Shortridge Principal Shane O’Day, along with two attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels, coached Shortridge’s mock trial team for the competition.

O’Day believes the program builds self-confidence and helps young people develop a desire and passion “to not only seek justice, but to craft arguments and bend statements to secure a judgment in their favor.”

“While I do not live vicariously through my students, I do hold a certain passion and respect for the law,” said O’Day. “It is exciting for me to watch our high school students grapple with weighty subjects, craft and implement legal strategy, and engage in the legal world. I come to work every day to witness these types of opportunities and experiences for our youth.”

Four Arsenal Tech students received awards: three for best witness and one for best attorney. The Shortridge team received an award for best witness.  

Adeli encourages students who are thinking of taking part in next year’s mock trial competition to go for it.

“You learn a lot from it and make some good friends along the way,” she said. “You gain a lot of confidence and are able to go in front of a room and prove your case. It’s just a great feeling overall.”