The legal acumen of a group of Jefferson County’s brightest future lawyers was on full display Saturday, Feb. 15, at the 35th annual Texas High School Mock Trial Competition.
Schools from across the region — including West Brook, Central, Kelly, Vidor and Memorial High Schools — picked their best and brightest for the mock trial competition at the Jefferson County Courthouse and were judged based on their knowledge of the rules of evidence, courtroom demeanor and public speaking ability.
This year, young would-be litigators were given a civil defamation trial as the basis for the competition. The trial centered around a mock workplace suit in which a young data analyst was outed as having a contagious disease by her co-workers and was subsequently passed up for promotion and isolated by her peers.
“We do the regional competition here for all the area schools, and then the winner of Saturday’s competition, the Young Lawyers Association pays for the state competition for them in Dallas,” said Bonnie Dean, the executive director of Jefferson County’s Bar Association who helped host this year’s event.
Dean said each student is an expert in their case once they’ve had time to prepare.
“They’re really good,” Dean said. “They’re all high school students and wow, they are amazing.”
This year’s winning team from Kelly High School was coached by some of Jefferson County’s most prominent lawyers and judges including Magistrate Judge Zack Hawthorn, District Judge Marcia Crone and Provost-Umphrey attorney Mark Sparks.
In an interview, Sparks said once Kelly selected a team after tryouts, his team spent three to four days a week since October preparing for Saturday’s mock trial.
He described his team as “dedicated” and “energetic” in the courtroom.
Indeed, as one sat in the courtroom that Saturday, it was easy to forget each team was comprised of area high school students, not all of which have a background in or are necessarily interested in law. Each team’s use of courtroom courtesies and law speak would have one believe they had been practicing law for years.
Judge Hawthorn said he too was proud of his Kelly team for bringing home the win, but said their work has just begun as the Dallas competition is soon to come.
“The competition in Dallas is fierce,” Sparks said.
Hawthorn and Sparks said they’ve been fortunate to have won Jefferson County’s regional mock trial competition every year since 2006 but have never quite taken first place at the state competition in Dallas.
They hope this year will be different. Hawthorn and Sparks said Kelly High School’s team has placed in the top 10 in Dallas four times since 2006.
The Jefferson County Young Lawyers Association awarded numerous scholarships to the winners of this weekend’s competition. Aaron Armstrong of Central High School was awarded Best Speaker and given a $500 scholarship. Krishna Singh was awarded Best Witness and given a $300 scholarship. But it was Kelly High School’s trial team that took the win and $2,500, which Hawthorn and Sparks said they will use to “break even” as the team of nine students and their coaches use the money for their hotels and food when they head north on March 6-9.
Kelly’s winning team headed to Dallas includes Emilie Fisher, Thomas Waddill, Aman Panjwani, Anna Fielder, Emily Lee, Nykeia Jones, Krishna Singh, Shaina Escebedo and Hannah McMahon with Aaron Kelley as the team’s faculty advisor.