Written by Lance Leonhard
Several weeks ago, the Marathon County Courthouse was absolutely teeming with activity…
Attorneys, witnesses, and litigants were scurrying through the halls and into courtrooms. All told, 20 trials took place in the span of 10 hours!
A busy courthouse is nothing new. But that day, the differences extended beyond just holding court on a weekend. Saturday, February 11, 2017, marked the 33rd anniversary of the Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Tournament.
How do you compete in mock trials, you ask?
Each year, a dedicated team of experienced attorneys and volunteers craft witness statements, factual reports, legal documents, and Mock Trial court rules for high schoolers across the state.
High school teams spend months with dedicated volunteer coaches and educators analyzing case materials, learning court rules, developing legal strategies and arguments, and honing their presentation skills.
The tournament is the culmination of that focused effort, allowing the students to showcase what they’ve learned about our court system through this interactive and team-oriented approach.
For the last 3 years, Wausau has served as a regional site for teams from all over northcentral Wisconsin. This year’s tournament brought more than 120 students from 10 Mock Trial teams to the Marathon County Courthouse. Wausau West, D.C. Everest, Merrill, Wisconsin Rapids, Phillips, Lakeland Union, and Rhinelander all participated in this regional Mock Trial event.
This year, the teams battled over a criminal case, serving as either the Prosecution or the Defense in a Reckless Homicide case involving a drug overdose. Each of the 10 teams competed in four head-to-head matches throughout the day, arguing their case to panels of three judges.
At the end of the day, Rhinelander High School’s First Team came out on top, while the two teams from D.C. Everest took second and third. Success for Rhinelander at the event is nothing new. The team is a perennial powerhouse in the state, winning its regional event 31 consecutive times and capturing the state title 17 times. In fact, Rhinelander remains the only team in Wisconsin history to win the National Mock Trial Championship, doing so in 1989.
By virtue of their success at the event in Wausau, both Rhinelander and D.C. Everest earned the right to compete against regional winners from across the state in Madison on March 11–12, 2017, for the State Mock Trial Championship. While neither local team came away with the state title (that honor, and the privilege of representing Wisconsin at the National Championship event in Hartford, Connecticut, went to Brookfield Academy), each will undoubtedly be back next year.
We invite you to consider getting involved in Mock Trial, either as a participant or as a volunteer.
Here is some of what this year’s regional participants said about the experience:
“Mock Trial has taught me to be a more confident individual and it has taught me to think critically and precisely. I am positive I have become a better leader through Mock Trial and I am thankful for all the opportunities and experiences it has offered me as a student. I will definitely recommend Mock Trial to other students as it has provided me with great relationships with teachers, attorneys, and peers.” — Morgan Edwards, Phillips High School
“Mock Trial has taught me how to be confident and comfortable in the kind of stressful situations I will likely encounter in adult life. Most importantly, it has taught me to have grace and poise, no matter the outcome.” — Ellie Rickman, Rhinelander High School
“I don’t believe there is an extracurricular activity that requires more dedication, mental focus, and skill than Mock Trial. These are things I will use the rest of my life.” — Albiona Sabani, Rhinelander High School
“I am amazed at the life lessons that Mock Trial teaches kids in a purely academic setting that the kids also really enjoy. They have a lot of fun learning things they will use in many aspects of the rest of their lives. And to me, that is truly amazing.” — Scott Wirth, Coach Phillips High School
“I am always impressed with the effort the students put forth. The presentations are extremely professional, and judging these events is no easy task. During the more than 15 years that I have been volunteered with the program, I have seen countless students develop skills that serve to prepare them to be leaders in our community and in the field of law.” — Honorable Michael Moran, Marathon County Circuit Court Judge / Mock Trial Volunteer Judge
Anyone interested in serving as a volunteer for next year’s regional tournament is encouraged to contact Marathon County Deputy Administrator Lance Leonhard, one of the tournament coordinators.
And for those students or teachers who don’t have a Mock Trial program at their local high school but want to learn more about how to get one, please speak with your school administrator and access the Wisconsin State Bar website here.
Until next time, we’re adjourned.
Marathon County Deputy Administrator
Lance Leonhard began his career in Marathon County government in the Office of Corporation Counsel and currently serves as the Marathon County Deputy Administrator. Lance’s career in public service has spanned more than a decade, having worked for the federal government as a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and for the state of Wisconsin as an Assistant District Attorney. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Lance spending time with his family, traveling, teeing off on a local golf course, or sitting around a campfire with friends. Email Lance Leonhard
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