Jeffco high schoolers resting their case

Student lawyers and witnesses compete in mock trial tournament

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/4/20

Although the courts of Jefferson County usually go dark on weekends, they buzzed with activity on Saturday, Feb. 29 as lawyers made arguments and cross-examined witnesses about Gayle Gergich, a …

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Jeffco high schoolers resting their case

Student lawyers and witnesses compete in mock trial tournament

Posted

Although the courts of Jefferson County usually go dark on weekends, they buzzed with activity on Saturday, Feb. 29 as lawyers made arguments and cross-examined witnesses about Gayle Gergich, a wealthy woman who’s willing of her prized corgi was being challenged in probate court.

But the fact that the case was taking place on a Saturday wasn’t the only thing unusual. Though they looked and sounded every bit the part, the attorneys in the courtroom were not professional lawyers but Jeffco high school students competing in the district’s annual mock trial competition.

The annual competition, which consisted of 18 teams from Jeffco high schools this year, provides students with the chance to learn the ins and outs of trials, and experience what it takes to argue one. The top teams from the district competition advanced to the state competition, at the Jefferson County Combined Court on March 13 and 14.

Esther van de Lagemaat, a Lakewood High School student who acted as a lawyer for her mock trial team, said she participates because she loves the challenge involved in preparing to argue a case.

MORE: See the Alameda Legal team argue their case

“There are certain things you have to know really well like the witness statements, which you have to read and practically memorize and then you also have to know the rules of evidence which is another 17 pages you practically have to memorize,” she said.

Tom MacDonald, the coach of the Alameda High School team, said the process requires both lawyers and witnesses to prepare in a way similar to that of actors learning their roles for a show.

“You see some of these teams they come in and they are using notes and reading stuff that the coaches prepared for them and it doesn’t go over well because they are sitting there reading,” MacDonald said. “Where, if the kids learn it and it becomes there’s then it really is a presentation and it makes it much more dramatic.”

For some of the students participating in the competition, mock trial provides a great opportunity to learn more about law in preparation for a career working in the legal system. But even those who have no interest in such a career can find plenty that is useful about participating, Lakewood High School coach Jeff Kelson.

“The courtroom is the most challenging public speaking environment you can imagine because the opposition will interrupt you, the judge will interrupt you, the witness will fight back against you and you are all doing this in public,” Kelson said. “So if you learn to do this in high school you can give a speech in front of 300 people and feel like this is a piece of cake because no one is going to say ‘boo’ to me.”

Geri O’Brien Williams, an attorney who has coached the mock trial team at Lakewood’s D’Evelyn Junior Senior High School for nine years, said seeing her students develop those kind of real world skills is what keeps her coming back.

“I’m just inspired by the students and seeing not only potential for law school for them but just potential for real world careers,” she said. “It’s putting information together synthesizing it and presenting it and standing your ground.”

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