PROSPERITY — Ten Mid-Carolina High students are practicing their judicial skills as they prepare for a mock trial competition in Columbia.
The students are competing in the S.C. Bar Regional High School Mock Trial Competition at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law Saturday along with six other schools from around the Midlands area. There are 15 Midlands schools in all but this area was divided into two.
For nine years, Mid-Carolina students have had the opportunity to participate in the mock trial experience. There are opportunities for advancing to state and national competitions.
This is a voluntary experience as students opt to participate in this extra curricular activity. Since October 2012, the student and three faculty advisers have been preparing, debating and studying the case.
Frances Meetze, Jessica Chamberlain and Jeffrey Eargle are the teachers who coach and advise the students and local attorney Chad Jenkins from Pope and Hudgens offers his real-life experience and advice to the student attorneys.
The students are varied - one freshman, three sophomores, three juniors and three seniors - and while they may not all go into the law field, they agree that the practice trial is helpful.
According to Eargle, the students work on developing either a plaintiff and defendant case. Students either play the role of the plaintiff, defendant or witness and during the competition, the team will compete three times. The team will be able to play the role of defendant and plaintiff and the third time is a random choice made, Eargle explains.
“We received the case last October and spent four months preparing the case,” said Eargle.
“The kids get really into being careful in reading documents,” said Eargle as he explains how they look at words and debate a word in a document.
While this is Eagle’s eighth year helping out this is Meetze’s first year.
“I see them helping each other and they are such a team. I see them debating and learning the system of how and what they can and cannot do. You can see that they are taking heart to what they are doing,” said Meetze.
In addition to debating, there’s also some acting involved for the students who portray the witnesses.
Meetze said that the student-witnesses have to memorize their affidavits which involves some acting.
Eargle said that Jenkins helps the students understand how to frame questions, write questions, construct arguments and when to object.
“What Chad brings is the experience of being a lawyer, that real-life experience,” said Eargle.
Eargle explains that last year’s team almost had a chance at state competitions.
“Last year, Mid-Carolina was chosen as an alternate for state. We were fourth in region,” said Eargle, which he believes that has helped them work even harder this year.
“This year’s team is good. I think that last year knowing they were alternates (last year) pushed them,” said Eargle.
One student, Walker Eldridge, is a junior and has participated in the mock trial competition for three years now. Eldridge is a senior mentor meaning that he helps the other students.
“I really enjoy it. I’m a passionate person and this is really intense,” said Eldridge, “This year we are really buckling down.”
Eldridge said that he works on the case in his time almost daily. That includes the three meetings per week the group has had. That’s on top of his regular school work and other activities.
As for what career he wants to delve into, he said he’s not sure about pre-law but he knows he wants to do corporate marketing.
Eldridge said that with the civil case they are studying, it’s not about “striving for a smoking gun; it’s not as one sided.”
“It comes down to the strength of the team,” said Eldridge.
While Eldridge has done the mock trials throughout high school,his younger sister decided she wanted to get involved.
Gracie Eldridge, a freshman, said she decided to do it because it “looks good on college applications” plus she just wanted to see what it was all about after watching her brother do it.
While Gracie Eldridge isn’t so keen on a law career, she said it has helped her pay more attention to details. That and to not procrastinate.
“I know I want to go into medicine. It’s taught me to question everything and pay attention to details,” she said.
Also, the team makes it fun to learn.
“The people here are really fun. I’m excited to see at competition how others have interpreted it (the same case),” she said.
Besides the fun quotient, there is a lot of learning involved as juniors Ali Boland and Kate Sidener have discovered.
“I’ve learned more about how the laws work, defamation, negligence,” said Sidener, who said she wants to go into a science and math field.
As for being in a courtroom during the mock trial, Boland describes the unique experience.
“Every day of competition is amazing. It’s an adrenaline rush being in a real courtroom with friends,” she said.
This year, Boland said she is more confident about what she can do whereas last year she was told more of what she needed to do.
Boland wants to go into forensics so the mock trial sets up a foundation for her.
The girls also says that Jenkins helps walk them through the legal process and answers questions and the teachers give them space to do things on their own and figure out problems without overshadowing them.
The team goes on to compete in the regional competition this Saturday. Then 12 teams (schools) will advance to state competition March 8-9.
The Mock Trial program is sponsored by the S.C. Bar’s Law Related Education Division, which was developed in 1976 to improve the ability of teachers to instruct law related education. The program is made possible through the S.C. Bar Foundation IOLTA grant and S.C. Bar.
This year the teams are taking on a fictitious civil case, Logan Gray vs. JML Properties, Inc. which focuses on Gray, an investigative reporter, who aired a story about a bedbug infestation while staying at property owned by JML Properties.
The property group claims that Gray planted the bedbugs and then filed a counterclaim. More information about the program can be found at www.scbar.org/lre.