Order in the court
HSE Mock Trial team takes top honors
Imagine you’re a famed defense attorney or maybe a lawyer from one of your favorite episodes of Law and Order.
Your witness held his composure, and maybe even made another attorney look foolish. It was an adrenaline-filled day in court. Where do you go to celebrate?
The award-winning Hamilton Southeastern High School Mock Trial team calls it a day and heads to Steak and Shake, at least during county competition season.
The team won first place honors this summer at the National Judicial Competition, sponsored by the Youth in Government division of the YMCA and the American Bar Association. The competition was held at the Chicago Bar Association and John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
The team is coached by HSEHS teacher Janet Chandler. “I love watching how the students take the competition so seriously and work to develop their case,” she said. “I especially like it when the team becomes a family.”
Going up against teams from California, Michigan and Texas, the group was tasked with playing both sides of a case in which the falling-death of a drum line pledge led to second degree murder and hazing charges for the defendant.
It’s not all burgers and shakes for this team. This is an adrenaline-fueled competition that requires preparation, restraint, and confidence. In a game where innocence and guilt doesn’t guarantee a win, but performance and knowledge spells victory, wits under pressure count.
Preparing for court
The team has to think on its feet to be successful.
“It’s like a serene adrenaline,” Andrew Notar Donato, 16, said.
Before they have the chance to ask the questions and deconstruct their opponents’ positions at competitions, the team goes through laborious preparation.
When in full swing, they meet three times per week, including Saturdays, as well as spend outside time memorizing pages of witness statements, or, if the student is playing an attorney, examination questions.
Then they take it to the court.
Donato said two people had to take on two roles for the NJC.
“It’s really all about becoming your character and sinking yourself into the place on each side of the case,” Donato said.
Nick Iacobucci, 17, played multiple roles in the competition, including fictitious defendant Chris Biggs, who either pushed a pledge from a clock tower or just failed to save him.
“You have to be confident in what you have to say and that it’s right,” he said.
Hannah Muehlhausen, 16, said after going through more competitions, she was ready for other teams to go on the attack.
“The first time (competing) I was freaking out,” she said. “but then the more we had more competitions, I was like ‘I’ve got this. Come at me.’”
HSE Mock Trial started in 2001, and while a few of the current team have law aspirations, some of the alumni have gone on to be part of the field or having relatable experiences on another.
Joe Reitz, guard for the Indianapolis Colts and mock trial alum, said if professional sports didn’t pan out for him, he would have ended up in law school.
Reitz said some of the things that can happen in mock trial parallel what can happen on the football field.
“If somebody objects – if something happens – you always got to be ready to constantly be on your toes and think on your feet,” he said. “That’s something that translates out on the football field, whether a play gets changed or a defense switches or something like that.”
Jessica Williams, 24, went on to undergraduate school at Purdue University and Notre Dame for law school. She’s waiting on Bar exam results.
“There’s not many other clubs that you can join in high school that can validate the career path you can ultimately go down,” she said.
HSE Mock Trial will hold tryouts in October.