When Judge Dan Hensley stepped into a courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center the morning of Nov. 8, the room — full of students from Emerald Ridge and Redmond high schools — fell silent.
Just minutes before, the students were engaged in their last-minute preparations for their mock trial — a project they’ve been working on since the beginning of the school year in September.
All their work led to that moment.
“We’re excited about it,” said Emerald Ridge junior Avonya Divinity, who was waiting outside the courtroom with her defense team, preparing their case against Redmond High School’s prosecution team. “(We’re) making sure we have the final touches.”
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Inside the courtroom, Emerald Ridge’s prosecuting team was just about to begin its case against Redmond’s defense team. The trial would continue until the jury made a verdict. At 11 a.m., the teams from each school would switch for a second round.
Our whole class has to work together. If one person is slacking, the rest of the class feels that. It’s not about winning. It’s about gaining experience.
Naomi Pierce, senior at Emerald Ridge High School
The mock trial mirrored the way a real trial is conducted. Once the judge took a seat and swore in the jury — made up of volunteers and friends — the Emerald Ridge prosecution presented its case.
The criminal case was a familiar one for both schools. For the past few months students studied it: a case about a fictional high school basketball player who was drugged at a party the night before a big rival basketball game. A logo was drawn on the victim’s face.
The accused? Another fictional student named Bobby Kim, who was there the night of the party.
When Emerald Ridge students were first handed the packet, they had to familiarize themselves with the situation. Then, they were broken up into two teams: defense and prosecution of Bobby Kim.
Some students were elected as witnesses in the trial and had to memorize the situation of their own character. They didn’t know what questions the other team was going to ask them in cross-examinations.
“They have to be able to problem solve and think on their feet,” said Christi Horton, teacher of the business law class at Emerald Ridge.
“Our whole class has to work together,” added senior Naomi Pierce, a mock-attorney on the defense team. “If one person is slacking, the rest of the class feels that. It’s not about winning. It’s about gaining experience.”
I’ve been doing this program since 1977. It’s to teach (students) a lot of skills. (They) will be able to speak to an employer. It gives students real skills and confidence.
Margaret Fisher, professor at Seattle University’s School of Law
The students took the trial seriously, arriving in their business attire and addressing the judge and jury in professional terms.
“Their courtesy in the courtroom was so impressive,” said Margaret Fisher, professor at Seattle University’s School of Law. “How well-mannered they were.”
Fisher worked side by side with students this year and has been working with Emerald Ridge students for about 10 years. Her law student, Brittany Ward, worked with the Redmond students.
“I’ve been doing this program since 1977,” Fisher said. “It’s to teach (students) a lot of skills. (They) will be able to speak to an employer. It gives students real skills and confidence.”
At the end of the first round, the jury ruled in favor of Redmond’s defense team and were unable to convict Kim beyond reasonable doubt. The same verdict was given for Emerald Ridge’s defense team after the second round.
Judge Hensley, along with two attorneys sitting in on the trials, offered advice to the students after the end of each verdict.
“I’ve done a lot of these trials and you’re up at the top in terms of quality,” Hensley said to the students. “Everyone did a fine job. Congratulations to you all.”
A performance winner was chosen at the end of the two trials. Redmond won the first round, Emerald Ridge won the second.
It gives you a good idea of how to be a good attorney. It helps with your confidence. You have to be sure of yourself, and that helps with all areas of life.
Avonya Divinity, junior at Emerald Ridge High School
“I thought it was really well done. I’m always amazed. The students can always pull it off,” Fisher said. “The judge told the (Emerald Ridge) defense team that their cross-examinations (were) as good as he’d seen in court.”
The business law class applies what students are learning in the classroom to a real courtroom. But whether or not they pursue a law degree after graduation, students say the class helps them better understand the real world.
“It gives you a good idea of how to be a good attorney,” Divinity said. “It helps with your confidence. You have to be sure of yourself, and that helps with all areas of life.”
“It’s a good opportunity to see how the court system works,” added junior Blake Roscoe, a mock-attorney on the defense team.
Horton, a teacher at Emerald Ridge for 16 years, said she’s impressed at how students develop their skills over time.
“I was really proud of how my students performed,” she said. “From beginning to end, I’m proud of the progress they’ve made.”