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COLUMBIANA COUNTY Mock trials court students into law

By Nancy Tullis

Monday, February 23, 2004

The trial gives students courtroom experience before judges and attorneys.
LISBON -- Illegal search and seizure, Miranda rights and suppression of evidence were debated in Columbiana County courtrooms by teams of high school students.
The judges of the common pleas and juvenile courts kept their dockets clear Friday to make way for an Ohio High School Mock Trial district competition. Columbiana County teams were from Beaver, Heartland Christian and Lisbon.
Atty. Daniel Blasdell of East Palestine coordinated the effort in the second year for Columbiana County participation. A presiding judge and two scoring judges listened as students presented evidence, including statements from witnesses, and argued their points.
Blasdell said the competition gives students a hands-on opportunity to learn about the legal system and sharpen their public speaking skills and self confidence. He said the students have been preparing their cases since October, with each team advised by a teacher and a local attorney.
Biggest hurdle
Atty. Nick Barborak of Lisbon was legal adviser for one of Lisbon's teams. He said the biggest hurdle as students began to prepare was that they would argue for or against suppression of evidence in a criminal case, not about guilt or innocence.
He said students are provided with information about the circumstances of the case, witness testimony and case law. They have to prepare evidence and convince the scoring judges that they made a better case than the opposing team. They don't know who they will face or how the opposing team will approach the case.
Here's the case
The case presented to students involved an explosive planted in a busy public town square and the subsequent actions of the police upon identification of a possible suspect.
Some of the questions students had to answer: Was the confession voluntary? Did the police overstep their boundaries in trying to elicit a confession? Did the police have the right to examine the contents of a student's laptop computer?
Prosecution's side
Crystal Kenmuir presented the prosecution's case for a Lisbon team, and a team from Jackson High in Massillon presented the defense case.
Kenmuir, a junior, is considering a career in law. She said the case was challenging because students had to prepare three witnesses.
"Only two are used, but you don't know which two," she said. "You have to know the law a little, and know how to apply it."
Jonathan Kanam, a senior from Jackson High in Massillon, countered the Lisbon team's effort by presenting the prosecution's case. He has participated for four years and had his first opportunity to present a defense case. "I think we did a good job," Jonathan said. "You have to be on your toes."
Kanam said he is strongly considering a career in law, mostly because of his participation in the mock trial program. "You're in an actual courtroom before judges and attorneys who are practicing law," he said. "It's the real deal."
Across the state
Blasdell noted about 3,000 students representing about 300 high school teams competed at 29 sites across the state on Friday. The top 48 teams will advance to the state finals in Columbus March 11-13, and the final championship round will be played at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.
The Ohio High School Mock Trial Competition is the third largest in the country behind California and New York. It is sponsored by the Ohio Center for Law Related Education, the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio State Bar Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, and the Ohio Attorney General's office.