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  • InsideTrack
  • November 17, 2021

    Mock Trial Case Ponders Disability Rights Question

    High school students will tackle the difficult issues presented in a disability rights case during the 2022 Wisconsin High School Mock Trial competition.

    Shannon Green

    Shorewood team

    In this capture from the 2021 state finals competition in March, Shorewood team prosecuting attorney Emma Stenzel (bottom right) delivers her initial closing statement Also pictured are Waukesha South team attorney Shala Pacheco (bottom center) and judges for the finals round​​​ (top row, from left) Judge Kori Ashley, Judge Mario White, Judge Ellen Berz, and (bottom left) Judge Michael Bloom.

    Nov. 17, 2021 – How do a worker’s disability and their employment requirements interact?

    As part of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2022 High School Mock Trial Competition, made possible with grants from the Wisconsin Law Foundation,​ students will explore the termination of an employee with diabetes. While the employer says the employee was fired due to violating work rules, the employee-plaintiff says the firing came after the employee fainted due to diabetic shock.

    “On the surface, the case may seem a bit drier than the usual blood-and-death havoc mock trial students are used to seeing come out of our fictional Clearwater, Wisconsin (where all of our mock trial cases are based),” said Kristen Lonergan, chair of the Casewriting Committee.

    “But this year, our casewriting committee really embraced the opportunity to focus on the characters,” she said.

    It is a case that challenges the students in a new way – and offers more “drama” because the involved family members who are witnesses have long-standing animosities and competing motivations.

    “That means there is going to be plenty of opportunity for the students to get bogged down or distracted with extraneous issues,” Lonergan said.

    While this provides the students a variety of ways to pursue the case, it means the students will really have to pick a theory of the case that will meet their burden of proof and stick with it, in order to choose what pieces of evidence really matter. “It involves a higher level of strategic thinking than a simpler case might, on top of juggling rules of evidence and creating compelling witness presentations,” Lonergan said.

    Wisconsin Law Foundation

    The Wisconsin High School Mock Trial program is funded by a generous grant from the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar of Wisconsin, supporting law-related education and public service programs statewide.

    ​​

    Virtual Competitions Continue

    The Mock Trial program provides high school students with an opportunity to act as attorneys and witnesses in a court case developed by State Bar members. Students will argue the case in teams of six to 12, first at the regional level, then the top 24 teams will advance to the semifinals.

    The top two advance to the finals. The state finalists compete in the National High School Mock Trial championship in May.

    The state regional competitions are typically held in locations around the state, with the semifinals and final rounds in Madison. Because of the pandemic in 2020, the tournaments were cancelled just before the finals rounds.

    In 2021, the competition was held via Zoom. For 2022, they are once again being held via Zoom, with 80 teams signed up to compete. Regional online competitions will be held online ​in four rounds on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 12-13, 2022, and the online state finals are March 5-6, 2022, with two rounds per day.

    “We have a good virtual foundation laid from last year, and while we were hoping to return to in-person competition, unfortunately it was not going to work logistically with the uncertainty at the time that much of the planning would have needed to happen,” Lonergan said. “We feel confident in our virtual competition operations now, but can't wait to get back to in-person.”

    Kristen Lonergan

    “There is going to be plenty of opportunity for the students to get bogged down or distracted with extraneous issues,” says Kristen Lonergan, chair of the Casewriting Committee.

    Attorney Coach Honored by Casewriters

    There is a noteworthy story behind select witness names this year. Typically, in creating a case that applies to all Wisconsin high school mock trial teams, gender-neutral names are chosen that can apply to either male or female students no matter which student personifies that witness.

    During last year's virtual competition, some team members and coaches participated together, but were physically separated, appearing on Zoom from separate locations.

    That was the case for the Madison West team competing in the semifinals. The team's primary attorney-coach took part in every trial during competition, but with his video turned off even when the team met in a private Zoom room, which was not typical for him. On the second competition day, after the finalists were announced, the team gathered privately by video to congratulate each other on a job well done.

    That was when the team's coach turned on his camera for the first time all weekend – revealing that he was in a hospital bed. “Unknown to the team, he had been hospitalized – and yet had coached them all weekend with his video off so that the students would not become worried and distracted,” Lonergan said.

    Kendall Harrison

    That coach was Kendall Harrison of Godfrey & Kahn, Madison (pictured right). Harrison got involved about 5 years ago with the Madison West mock trial program through his daughter, Spencer, who participated in mock trial in high school. Spencer is now a junior in college.

    Both "Kendall Harrison" and "Spencer Harrison" are the names of two witnesses in the this year's case. “We named two of the case’s fictional characters after the Harrisons to honor Kendall's dedication to his team and to the mock trial program,” Lonergan said.

    Harrison was not told prior to seeing the case materials, and admits that when he saw the list of character names, it gave him quite a pause. "I'm honored and very surprised," Harrison said.

    “Harrison’s dedication to his students is representative of those who make the mock trial program work,” Lonergan said.​

    Volunteers Needed for Online Tournaments

    Volunteers – whether attorneys or judges on the bench – are needed for competitions taking place online in February and March.

    Volunteers needed as judges for:

    • Statewide virtual regional competitions, Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 12-13, 2022. There are two sessions per day, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.

    • Semifinal virtual competitions are Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6, 2022. There are two sessions per day, at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day.

    Volunteers may choose to be judges for either the morning or afternoon competitions, or for both.​

    To volunteer, visit wisbar.org/mocktrial and click the volunteer link at the bottom of the page​. If you have questions, contact Katie Wilcox by email or phone at (608) 250-6191, or (800) 444-9404, ext. 6191.




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