Shorewood’s mock trial team poses for a photo at the regional tournament on Feb. 4 in Milwaukee. Photo: Attorney-coach Nathan Bayer.
Feb. 15, 2023 – It wasn’t a comfortable feeling for a judge: attending a trial in his former courtroom, where he wasn’t allowed to speak or comment on the proceedings.
For 17 years, Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Rick Cveykus has coached high school mock trial – most of those years with teams at D.C. Everest High School in Schofield before moving and joining Wausau West High School’s teams four years ago. In April 2022, he was elected to the bench.
During the regional competition of the
Wisconsin High School Mock Trial Tournament on Feb. 4, 2023, his Wausau team competed in the same courtroom where Judge Cveykus began his judicial tenure (three weeks later he moved to a different branch).
The experience “was a bit surreal,” he said. “To see the team compete in the courtroom I have held court, then to watch someone else judge objections and not be able to say anything if I disagreed. I had to get used to that again!”
One of two teams from Wausau West High School is one of the 20 headed to the semifinals competition. “I look forward to see our team compete at the highest level,” said Judge Cveykus.
Mock trial volunteer attorney-judges pose for a photo at the Juneau tournament, from left: Tatiana Shirasaki of Juneau; Walter Zimmerman of Milwaukee; and Rose Simon-Silva of Menomonee Falls. Photo: Tatiana Shirasaki.
20 Teams Headed to Madison in March
In the first regionals competition held in person since February 2020, 87 high school mock trial teams competed in 10 regional tournaments around Wisconsin on Feb. 4. The competition was strong – and 20 teams now move to compete in Madison for the mock trial semifinal tournament in early March.
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.
“It was wonderful to talk with students and see them compete in an actual courthouse setting,” said Wausau attorney William Harris, in his third year as a volunteer judge for the regional tournament
The regional competition is the culmination of months of hard work by the students, which includes research, writing, and preparation for court, Harris said.
“What I enjoyed the most was seeing the end result of those months of hard work come together and watching the students eagerly and successfully demonstrate what they have learned.”
The top 20 teams, listed below, compete in the semifinals in early March, and the top two teams advance to the finals, held at the State Capitol on March 5. The winner will compete in the
National High School Mock Trial championship in May in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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.
Joel Thomas, a mock trial attorney for Brookfield Central, gives his opening statement during the regionals tournament against Lodi’s team in Juneau. Photo: Tatiana Shirasaki.
Mock trial “helps students develop their ability to communicate effectively and work in a team environment, and it enhances their advocacy skills, challenges their ability to think on their feet, and is just a fun and interactive way to learn about the legal system,” Harris said. “It is intellectually rewarding and an incredibly positive experience for all involved.”
“This program is a win-win,” said Milwaukee attorney Nick Zales, who volunteers each year as a competition judge. “The State Bar provides the format and courtrooms, and the students get a realistic glimpse of our legal system while still in high school.”
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.
In 2021 and 2022, competitions were held online, and in 2020, the semifinals and finals, which were to take place in early March, were canceled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘They Have Figured Out that Effort Works Magic’
Each team appears before three volunteer attorneys who assess their performance and ability to argue their side of the case.
“It is a great opportunity to engage with and encourage our next generation of leaders and future lawyers,” Harris said.
“I am so impressed with the preparation and attitude of the participants,” said Zales, who served as a scoring judge at the Milwaukee-area tournament taking place at the Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee. “I could see right away the students had worked very hard to learn how to prepare and defend the case.”
Wausau West’s mock trial teams and coaches take a photo in the courtroom of Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Rick Cveykus – one of two attorney-coaches for the team. The regional competition in Wausau took place in the courthouse where Judge Cveykus works. Pictured with their students, team coaches are teacher-coach Dawn Jameson (back row on the left); Judge Cveykus (back row, fourth from the right); and attorney-coach Dylan Resch (middle row on the right).
Photo used with permission.
Tatiana Shirasaki, assistant corporation counsel for Dodge County, volunteered a third time for the tournament in Juneau. She served as a scoring judge. The students were “unbelievable,” she said. “It was perfect. It was also a lot of fun.”
Zales is in his fourth year as a mock trial volunteer. “The students' youthful exuberance and dedication to doing their best are what bring me back,” he said.
Judge Cveykus is one of three coaches – along with attorney-coach Dylan Resch and teacher-coach Dawn Jameson. Judge Cveykus coaches, he says, for the same reason both coaches and volunteer judges volunteer with the program every year: “It is impossible to
not come back when you see our talented students put in so much effort.”
A Challenging Homicide Case
The 2023 case involves a high school senior camping trip gone wrong near the fictitious Wisconsin town of Clearwater. Participants argue whether a student, exploring a forest while camping, died by homicide or just a horrible accident.
Milwaukee-area attorney Walter Zimmerman volunteered as a presiding judge for the tournament in Juneau. The 2023 case, he said, has a fact pattern that is quite challenging for the students, who were not slowed down at all by the challenge. “On every team, I saw students who will someday be great lawyers – or great at whatever they choose to do, because they clearly have figured out that effort works magic.”
“The lesser-included offense this year was difficult,” Judge Cveykus said of the case – that difficulty making it a great challenge for his team.
“The students, and their families, teachers, and coaches should all be very proud,” Harris said. “It’s clear they all have a very bright future ahead of them and I certainly look forward to hopefully seeing some of them back in the courtroom in the years to come.”
“I am proud of my students,” Judge Cveykus said. “I hope they, and all the students competing in the semifinals enjoy who they are with and feel the accomplishment in being with the best in the state. They deserve to enjoy these days.”
The Lodi mock trial team poses for a photo before a round at the regional tournament in Juneau. From left, front row at the counsel table are Erik Dachel, Anna Ladwig, and Zion Kurtz. Back row are witnesses Kenny Chytracek, Ember Schmidt, and Jade Homewood. Photo used with permission.
Wisconsin Law Foundation Supports 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.
The 2023 Mock Trial Regional Winners
Congratulations to these teams:
Brookfield Academy, Brookfield
Brookfield Central, Brookfield
Cedarburg High School, Cedarburg
DC Everest High School, Schofield
Franklin High School, Franklin
Kewaskum High School, Kewaskum
Lodi High School, Lodi
Melrose-Mindoro High School, Melrose
Middleton High School, Middleton
River Falls High School, River Falls
River Valley High School, Spring Green
Shorewood High School, Shorewood
Sturgeon Bay High School, Sturgeon Bay
Sun Prairie West High School, Sun Prairie
Superior High School, Superior
Waukesha South High School, Waukesha
Wausau West High School, Wausau
Whitefish Bay High School, Whitefish Bay
Whitnall High School, Greenfield
Xavier High School, Appleton