Oklahoma Bar Journal
Mock Trial: Fictional Case Requires Students to Develop Real-World Skills
By Kevin H. Cunningham
On Tuesday evening, March 5, the top two high school mock trial teams met for the final round of competition to determine the state winner. For the second consecutive year, the final teams were from the same high school. The 2019 Oklahoma High School Mock Trial Program final round was won by Owasso Team Quadstone after defeating Owasso Team Heisenberg. The Quadstone team will now represent the state of Oklahoma at the National High School Mock Trial Championship in Athens, Georgia, this May.
The winning team is comprised of competitors Jesse Anderson, Hayley Campbell, Melody Carney, Kelli Casteel, Emma Donohue, Avery Hendel, Ciara Locker, Maggie Murphy and Cole Wyrick. Attorney coaches for the team are Judge Daman Cantrell and Ken Underwood. The teacher coach is Kathy Rutherford. While the case at issue was a work of fiction, the competitors developed real-world skills and talent to prevail.
This year the case at issue dealt with a civil claim for wrongful death of a high school student due to alleged bullying. A surviving family member brought the suit against the defendant – a fellow student accused of engaging in bullying during school hours as well as after school hours. The bullying included in-person statements, statements made online and through direct electronic communication. The case involved a difficult topic that is unfortunately all-too-common in today’s society.
Competitors were tasked with preparing both sides of the matter and then prosecuting and defending the claims alleged during multiple rounds of competition. This case provided a unique opportunity for participants to consider how conduct that occurs too often can affect so many people, directly and indirectly. The students had to analyze the subject matter from the family’s perspective, the school’s perspective and the defendant’s perspective. Students had to filter through information that was not important or relevant to reach the facts needed to present each side of the controversy. The ability to critically think through an issue from multiple perspectives is a life-long skill that will serve the competitors throughout their futures.
More than 40 teams from 27 schools located across the entire state participated in the competition. While many high school sports in this state are divided into districts based on the relative size of the school, the mock trial program allows a home school program to field a team against the largest school district in Oklahoma. Much like the equal treatment given to all persons and entities within the courtroom walls of a real-life trial, the competitors are treated as equals during the mock trial competition. Experiencing how the legal system seeks to treat all equally will hopefully develop an appreciation for one of the foundations on which our country is built – a fair and impartial court system.
A new component to the program was added this year – best courtroom artist. Contestants were given one hour while a mock trial was underway to complete their drawing. Artists were judged on how their drawing told the story of the event taking place, composition, color/contrast and authenticity in conveying a professional feeling.
Presiding judge for the final round was Retired Judge Edward Cunningham, who has been involved with the competition since 1982. Scoring panelists were Judge Jane Wiseman, Judge Paul Cleary, Judge Shon Erwin, Judge Dana Rasure and Judge Jodi Jayne. Each of the scoring panelists is a current sitting judge and the panel, collectively, possesses decades of experience and involvement with the mock trial program. In fact, Judges Jane Wiseman and Dana Rasure were involved in the creation of the competition.
This program would not exist without the work of hundreds of volunteers. Each year, over 400 judges and attorneys donate time to work with mock trial teams directly, to score and judge the teams throughout the competition, and, as members of the Mock Trial Committee, to plan, prepare, write, conduct and oversee the competition.
The Oklahoma Bar Foundation is the principal financial supporter of this competition and without their generosity, the generational impact this program has developed since inception simply would not exist. Thank you on behalf of the committee and all involved for supporting the 2019 Oklahoma High School Mock Trial Program.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kevin Cunningham practices in Mustang and serves as chairperson of the Oklahoma High School Mock Trial Committee.
Trial Site Coordinators
Lydia Anderson Fields**
Presiding and Scoring Panelist Volunteers
Retired Judge Glenn Adams
Judge Luke Barteaux*
Dan Crawford *****
Retired Judge Edward Cunningham*****
Judge Shon Erwin***
Judge Sarah Hall
Judge Barbara Hatfield
Judge Lori Jackson
Judge Crystal Jackson
Judge Jack McCurdy
Judge Steven Shreder
Judge Caroline Wall
Retired Judge James Bland
Judge Daman Cantrell
Judge Douglas Kirkley
Judge Tim Mills
Judge Matt Sheets
Judge Jill Weedon
* Denotes multiple times
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 90 pg. 52 (April 2019)