A student attorney for Lake Geneva’s Badger High School mock trial team – seen in the second row, second from left in this Zoom capture – gives the prosecution’s opening during a round against Greenfield’s Whitnall High School team in the regional tournament on Saturday, Feb. 6. Also on screen are the lawyers who volunteered as judges, team coaches and score keepers, and members of both teams.
Feb. 17, 2021 – When around 750 students gathered on Zoom to compete in the State Bar of Wisconsin’s High School Mock Trial regional tournament, there wasn’t as much of “I can’t hear you, can you say that again?” as there was “I object.”
On Feb. 6 and 7, a total of 76 high school mock trial teams competed to determine which teams would head to semifinal tournament in March.
This time around, due to COVID-19, the teams competed over Zoom, rather than traveling to one of 10 regional tournament locations as in all prior years.
Their faces appeared on screens across the state, as they sat, masked, in classrooms at their schools, or unmasked in their own homes. On Zoom, they joined lawyers volunteering as judges, who were also appearing from their own offices and homes.
2020 Tournaments Canceled, 2021 Tournaments Virtual
One year ago, 103 high school teams – with more than 1,000 students – traveled during the first weekend in February to compete in regional trials in 11 courthouses around the state.
Then, 22 teams – first- and second-place teams in each region – qualified for the 2020 semifinal and final competition, set for mid-March. Along with many other events, the finals tournament was canceled when pandemic stay-at-home orders were issued just days before the tournament was set to begin. The national tournament, set for May, was also canceled.
This year, the regional first-place teams only will complete in the state final rounds – but they will take place. On March 6 and 7, the 10 teams will gather again over Zoom for the state semifinal rounds, not held since 2019. Two teams will compete in the state finals in the evening on Tuesday, March 9. The first-place team will compete in the virtual national tournament in May, hosted by the Indiana Bar Foundation.
Cynthia Lu, a student attorney for the Brookfield Central High School mock trial team, questions a witness – also portrayed by a student – over Zoom during the regional tournament on Feb. 6.
Trial by Zoom
This year’s case involved a murder mystery set amid COVID-19 quarantining.
Shannon Green is communications writer for the State Bar of Wisconsin, Madison. She can be reached by email or by phone at (608) 250-6135.
While there were a few technical problems, overall, the entire experience went smoothly, said Corinne Frutiger, a Green County assistant district attorney.
Frutiger was one of 83 lawyers and judges across the state who volunteered as score keepers and presiding judges for the tournament. She volunteered for the first time as a presiding judge for both days of the tournament. “The students were incredibly smart and talented, and some of their objections had me questioning my own knowledge on objections,” she said.
It was impressive, she said, that the students were able to hold an entire evidentiary trial by Zoom, to question witnesses, raise objections effectively, and share exhibits. “Zoom can be really frustrating to work with, especially when trying to do evidentiary style hearings, so I give them credit for how well they all performed and handled any weird technical issues.”
“I was incredibly impressed by every single student, from those playing witnesses to those playing attorneys,” Frutiger said. “Each student took on their role and really owned it. They put their own personality into it, and that’s pretty hard to do by Zoom.”
Presiding judge volunteer Corinne Frutiger, an assistant district attorney in Green County, listens to the students conducting the mock trial case via Zoom.
About Mock Trial
Wisconsin High School Mock Trial is a State Bar of Wisconsin program funded by the Wisconsin Law Foundation, the charitable arm of the State Bar. Founded in 1983, the program helps students gain a deeper understanding of our legal system while developing leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Each team appeared before a jury of volunteer attorneys who assess their performance and ability to argue their side of the case.
State Bar mock trial coordinator Katie Wilcox, in the upper right-hand corner, provides instructions at a judges’ meeting before the first Zoom-based high school mock trial tournament round on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. The volunteers include lawyers and a court commissioner from across Wisconsin, serving as presiding and scoring judges.
The 2021 Mock Trial Regional Winners
Congratulations to these teams who will compete in the semifinals:
- Beaver Dam
- Brookfield Central
- Madison West
- River Falls
- Waukesha South
- Whitefish Bay