Local students tackle First Amendment in court

NEW BOSTON, Ohio (Jan. 5, 2017) – More than 3,000 high school students will enter courtrooms across the state on Friday, Jan. 20, to take part in the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education’s (OCLRE) 34th Annual Ohio Mock Trial Competition.

In the 2017 Ohio Mock Trial case, Pat Justice v. CAT News et al., students will consider a case of defamation of a public official by a news station. In the fictitious case, Governor Pat Justice speaks at a school assembly. Afterward, he meets with the school principal, and an argument ensues. Governor Justice leaves abruptly, and the principal is found dead from a brain aneurysm. A student who overheard the argument reports to a local news outlet that Governor Justice killed the principal. While the student’s account is quickly disproven, the story goes viral. The governor loses a bid for re-election and files civil suit against the news station, alleging defamation.

Each Ohio Mock Trial team consists of five to 11 students who assume the roles of witnesses and attorneys to present both sides of an original case based on a constitutional issue. Each team will compete in two trials against opposing teams.

Students will participate in the Scioto County District Mock Trial from Portsmouth, Portsmouth West, Notre Dame, South Webster, Sciotoville Community, St. Joseph (Ironton), Valley, Wheelersburg, and River Valley Bidwell.

Portsmouth Coach Bruce Kalb said his team is practicing three days a week to prepare.

“At least one day a week, we run through the entire case, from the pre-trial conference to the rebuttal. The other two days we will focus intently on just one side of the case,” Kalb said. “If and when it is possible, we will take a trip to the court house so the students can familiarize themselves with a courtroom setting so they are a little less intimidated on competition day.”

Kalb touted the benefits of the mock trial for students.

“Not only do they get to become more familiar with how our legal system works, but they also get to develop critical thinking, public speaking, and teamwork skills along the way,” he said.

Teams that advance from the District Competition will compete in the Regional Competition on Feb. 10. Regional winners will compete in the State Competition on March 9-11 in Columbus. The 2017 State Champion will represent Ohio at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Hartford, Connecticut, May 11-13.

The local District Competition is sponsored by The American Legion James Dickey Post 23, The Honorable Howard H. Harcha, III, Portsmouth Bar Association, Portsmouth Rotary Club, Scioto Foundation, and the Southern Ohio Medical Center and is coordinated by Sharee Price, Gifted Services Coordinator at the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center.

Ohio Mock Trial District Competitions will be hosted in 27 counties throughout Ohio and more than 1,000 legal professionals will serve as volunteer judges, competition coordinators and team advisors. Ohio Mock Trial is Ohio’s largest high school academic competition and among the largest high school mock trial programs in the nation.

OCLRE is a private non-profit, nonpartisan organization whose goal is to improve society by developing citizens empowered with an understanding of our democratic system. OCLRE is sponsored by the Supreme Court of Ohio, Ohio Attorney General, Ohio State Bar Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation. The Ohio Mock Trial program is funded in part by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

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