Mock Trial Success Continues | News, Sports, Jobs

FAIRMONT– Mock Trial allows students to do everything a lawyer would do in a real trial. Fairmont High School is in its fourth year of the program, which is sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association.

The team is mentored by a trio of community members within the local justice system. Andrew Hoaglund is assistant public defender and Jaime Grundman and Christine Barkley are law clerks.

So far this season, the team is 2-1. Hoaglund said their next competition will be February 10. If they win, they will go to sections and after that, the state competition at the end of February.

The Fairmont team actually went public in 2019 when the team was in its first year and last year the team was about to go to regionals.

This year, nine students are part of the team. Although it is open to students in grades 7-12, the vast majority are upper grades. Grundman said several students have served on the team over the four years.

Of course, the last two years, Mock Trial has seen a shift from in-person competitions to virtual competitions.

“The most recent competition, and I think in the future we will meet at the courthouse”, said Hoaglund.

Grundman pointed out that the courthouse isn’t used much in person right now, so it’s pretty free. It is also an opportunity for students to experience a trial in a real courtroom.

All of the state’s mock trial teams receive the same case, most of which is based on real court cases. Each year, it alternates between a criminal case and a civil case. This year’s case is a criminal case, an allegation of theft by fraud.

Students and coaches meet to practice twice a week. Grundman said it was also necessary for them to train on their own.

Fairmont students compete against 18 area teams including Albert Lea, St. Peter, Lakeview, Northfield, Rochester Century and Luverne.

Students must prepare a case for plaintiff and defendant, so most students have two roles. The student “Lawyers” are marked on their direct and cross arguments, as well as on the opening and closing arguments. Witnesses are also marked on their live and crossovers. The tests are marked by judges or volunteer lawyers.

When asked what skills the students take away from the mock trial, Grundman answered public speaking and problem solving.

“They have to be creative and they can’t repeat everything. They learn to put on a face,” said Hoaglund.

Grundman added that a lot of teamwork is also required.

“They have to learn to work together and support each other,” she said.

Fairmont High School Extracurricular Activities has a good mix of coaches who are also teachers and coaches who are community members. Mock Trials trainers fall into the latter group. They shared why they love coaching the high school team.

“I did a mock trial in college and really enjoyed it. I wanted to find something to do in the community and after it was set up, it just worked so I could continue coaching every year. I love working with students,” Grundman said.

Hoaglund is also a men’s soccer coach and said he wants to be more involved in the community.

“Cool to see the program growing and fun to teach kids how to build a case.” he said.

Hoaglund added that he is really proud of the pupils they have and the work they have done so far this season.

“Even if you have to do things over Zoom and that’s not ideal, they’re soldiers. I think the mock trial can be intimidating, but we want to encourage anyone who wants to learn how to plead a case or be part of a team to consider joining us”, said Hoaglund.

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Elna M. Lemons