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Nordonia Hills -- A group of local high school students are about to test their legal skills against students from around the state.
Nordonia High School's four-member senior Mock Trial team will be in Columbus March 7 to 9 to take part in the Ohio Mock Trial state competition. It will determine who will represent Ohio in the national competition in Indianapolis in May.
"We're looking forward to the state competition," said Amanda Ferrell, a social studies and history teacher who serves as the team's advisor. "We're gearing up for that."
Ferrell said the team qualified for a berth in the state contest by winning both rounds in a Feb. 22 regional competition at Akron Municipal Court.
"We were one of five [regional] teams that qualified for state," said Ferrell.
She said that senior John Bailey Smith was named best prosecuting attorney, senior Alexandria Hudec was best defense attorney and sophomore Kate Fike was best witness. Smith and Hudec are in their fourth years taking part in Mock Trial, while Fike and senior Allyson Carpenter are in their second years. The school also has a six-student junior team, all freshmen and sophomores this year, that serves primarily as a training ground for the senior team.
Prior to the regional event, the team took first place overall at a district competition Feb. 1, also at Akron Municipal Court, and although the results did not affect the team's march to Columbus, the team also came in first place among 24 teams that took part in an invitational competition at the University of Cincinnati Jan. 12.
Attorney Farhad Sethna, who serves as the team's legal advisor, said in January that this year's senior team has an extra challenge. With only four members, the minimum required under Mock Trial rules, members have to be proficient in two roles, such as an attorney in one round and a witness in another, he said.
Ferrell, who was hired by the district last August, is in her first year as team faculty advisor.
She said the team began meeting twice weekly for after school practices in September.
Faculty advisors are mandatory, but legal advisors are optional. Sethna, who is in his eighth year in the position, became involved when his then freshman son Cyrus joined the team.
Ferrell said that even if students are not planning on pursuing legal careers, Mock Trial is useful in other ways, including helping to increase confidence and public speaking and team building skills.
Ohio Mock Trial is a program of the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, an educational organization sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court, the state attorney general's office, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation, and the Ohio Bar Association.
Teams are given a fictional court case and must argue it, on the prosecution side in one round and the defense in another.
This year's scenario is a suppression hearing involving a high school student who confessed to setting the school on fire, resulting in the death of a maintenance worker.
The student has recanted her confession and her attorney is alleging that police improperly coerced the confession, violating her constitutional rights, and it should be excluded at her trial.