Arguing their case

Published 11:20 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NRHS students have their day in court

Megan Dechant and Steven Ange still are in high school, but they have been preparing for trial for months.

The Nansemond River High School students successfully competed against students from other schools in the Tidewater region in a model judiciary program, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association and the Virginia YMCA model judiciary program. Dechant and Ange will advance to the Virginia Model Supreme Court event in Richmond on April 6.

The student teams dealt with a real case of computer trespass and destruction of property during the competition. The case involved an angry high school student whose computer technology grade was not high enough to earn a scholarship. She broke into the computer lab, changed her grade in the grade book, destroyed computers and wrote negative comments about her teacher throughout the room in spray paint.

Email newsletter signup

To participate in the event, the team members auditioned prior to Christmas vacation for the attorney roles and wrote opening and closing statements. The club sponsors, who have experience in law, reviewed the written statements and the students’ auditions to select attorneys for the competition.

Team sponsor Inga Francis served in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and practiced law for almost 25 years prior to becoming a teacher. Francis has kept her credentials current and continues to practice law as a trial and clinical attorney in civil and domestic cases.

Co-sponsor Holly Saunders served as a paralegal for a while and gained experience working closely with lawyers.

For the first competition, the team was required to provide students to play all of the roles, including jurors and witnesses. The teams were matched up with competing teams presenting the opposing argument.

The students first competed against other area schools during a mock trial at Norfolk Circuit Court. The second, appellate, round was held at the Court of Appeals in Chesapeake.

During the second round, students were judged based on their appeals presentation. Three judges assessed student performances based on their factual knowledge, case law, preparation and their knowledge of courtroom procedures. Students were also judged based on their poise, ability to be heard and use of the courtroom. The highest performing students were selected to continue on to the final round of the competition in Richmond.

The Nansemond River High School team competed against 16 teams from more than 10 high schools, and only eight students from the region were selected to move on to the final round of the competition.

“We are very proud of them. They have really worked hard to achieve what they have,” Saunders said. “They have shown themselves to be very mature and very hard-working.”

This is the first year Nansemond River High School has had a team compete in the event.

Through this competition, students have researched case law, prepared direct and cross examinations of witnesses, written opening and closing statements and presented them to a jury, prepared briefs, and completed work that actual lawyers would.

Even as third-year law students, these students would not be have the opportunity to do some of the things these students have done through this program, Francis said.

“As a teacher and as a lawyer, I am thrilled to death. It is so cool,” Francis said. “I teach both of them, so that makes me super proud.”