'Mock' madness: Tournament tests trial skills of young students


– Photos by John Meiu

By Linda Laderman

Legal News

More than 600 high school students from across the state are participating in the 2017 Michigan Center for Civic Education’s (MCCE) annual Mock Trial Tournament.

According to Linda Start, MCCE’s executive director, the issue this year involves allegations of excessive force by a police officer.

“It’s timely,” Start said. “The case was chosen with input from the Michigan State Police. We wanted to make sure it was a balanced presentation of an important issue.”

Since 2003, the Oakland County Bar Foundation has contributed $70,000 to help sponsor the tournament. It is money well spent, said Kaveh Kashef, president of the OCBF.

“We are very judicious and educated stewards with our donations. Sponsoring the Mock Trial Tournament falls squarely into our mission to bring a strong understanding of the law and the Constitution to high school students,” Kashef said.

Through its sponsorship of the event, the OCBF aims to give its participants a hands-on experience in a real world setting, Kashef noted.

“The mock trials demystify the legal process by giving students access to working attorneys and judges in a way that movies and books can’t,” Kashef said. “The tournament provides an avenue for the kids to challenge convention. That is the best way education can be achieved.”

The stature of the judiciary as it relates to the current national political dialogue has made educational events like the mock trials a priority for the OCBF, according to Kashef.

“To have an understanding of the intersection of the law and politics and how it impacts all of our lives is more important than ever,” Kashef said. “Not only is the Supreme Court highly politicized, but in light of issues like the Affordable Care Act, the law has become more prevalent in the discourse of daily lives.”

To further strengthen the educational ties between the legal community and the community at-large, volunteers like Victoria King, a judicial staff attorney for the Oakland County Circuit Court,
give a significant amount of their time to coach and judge the 62 teams that are registered for this year’s tournament.

King, who also is an OCBF Fellow, said she became a volunteer observer to support the OCBF and because she wanted to be part of a program that helps teach its young participants to “think on their feet.”

“I see the excitement the kids have and think, ‘You’re at the beginning of your life. You can do something if you set your mind to it,’” King said. “The world is very open to them. The mock trials teach them to think for themselves and not just take what is given to them.”

A former quality assurance engineer who attended law school as a working parent, King said she believes in the high schoolers’ ability to take on new challenges as they progress through the tournament.

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get started, but you won’t really know until you try,” King said. “These kids are building a skill that is essential to their future.”

With volunteers like King and the support of the OCBF, Start said she is looking forward to the March 25th state finals in Lansing.

“Volunteers act as team coaches, trial judges, and court officers.  The lawyer and teacher coaches work with high school teams for several months leading up to the competition,” Start said.

“We wouldn’t have had 34 years of successful tournaments without the OCBF and our volunteers. Their support has been vitally important to our infrastructure as a whole.”

The Michigan Center for Civic Education is a non-partisan 501(c)3 corporation, established in 1982 as an organization “solely dedicated to preparing an active and informed citizenry through law-related and civic education.”

Besides the Mock Trial Tournament, the MCCE provides programs for teachers, students and the community “that reflect best practices in civic and law-related education and provide experiences that are relevant, rigorous, and connected to real life.”