01/30/13 — Teens, attorneys prepping for spring mock trial

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Teens, attorneys prepping for spring mock trial

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 30, 2013 1:46 PM

A new partnership between public schools and local attorneys kicks off on Saturday with a workshop to prepare students for a countywide mock trial competition.

Teens and Attorneys Partnership for Success in Wayne County, or TAPS, is a variation of the Teen Court program introduced more than a decade ago by Communities in Schools of Wayne County, said Selena Bennett, CIS executive director.

"It's a spin-off of Teen Court in that it will give more kids an opportunity to learn about the legal system," she said.

Teen Court provides a deterrent to youths having a criminal record, allowing them to have charges against them dismissed after appearing before a jury -- as well as attorneys and judges -- of their peers.

For the students interested in staying on the right side of the law by volunteering to serve in the program, there have been some limitations.

"On Teen Court nights, we can only utilize so many kids to be the attorneys," Mrs. Bennett explained. "Typically, what happens is all the kids want to be attorneys -- we can only have two -- others wind up being on the jury, etc."

The concept of providing additional training took root last year and has resulted in TAPS.

"Communities in Schools of Wayne County and the Wayne County Bar Association have formed a partnership with Wayne County Public Schools in an effort to introduce high school students to the judicial system through mock trial competition," Mrs. Bennett said. "Students will have an opportunity to work with attorneys who have volunteered to assist the social studies/civics teacher.

"The attorneys will meet with a team of students and their teachers at their high school over the next few months. The attorneys will supply the students with all the case information. Attorneys will assist students as they work through the issues related to a trial -- how to pick a jury, how to prepare for closing arguments and any other details that would be involved in preparing for and presenting information for a trial."

Information was sent out to social studies and civics teachers in the district's nine public high schools, encouraging formation of six-member mock trial teams.

"We held our first meeting with the teachers on Dec. 10, so this is a second-semester program," Mrs. Bennett said. "The kids have been meeting with their teachers as best they could, between holidays, and since they have been back, with exams."

After inclement weather forced a postponement of its original Jan. 26 date, student teams and attorneys will gather Saturday afternoon at the Wayne County courthouse.

"We're expecting between 50 and 65 students," Mrs. Bennett said. "It's at least six students per high school and some of them have more than six. Some schools may even have more than one (team).

"They volunteer. These are the kids that heard about the program, they're interested in learning more about the legal system. Some of them might want to be an attorney, some just might want to learn more about the process."

More than two dozen local lawyers also are donating their time to the cause, she said.

"We had 20 at the first meeting," she said. "There are some judges that are going to assist us as we go through the process."

The three-hour agenda for Saturday afternoon will include information on direct questioning and cross-examining witnesses, closing arguments and a discussion of courtroom decorum.

The goal is to provide students with the tools needed to prepare for a mock trial competition to be held in the spring.

"We're looking at doing this, a tentative date of April 27," Mrs. Bennett said.

Funding for the program has come from the Wayne County Bar Association and Communities in Schools, she added.

"This is just another example of a great partnership," she said. "We have got a group of attorneys that are giving their time to go to the high schools and work with these kids, to work with their team and to participate in the training.

"We're just delighted that we have been able to pull this together."