FAIRMONT– Mock Trial allows students to do everything an attorney would do during a real trial. Fairmont High School is in its fourth year of the program, which is sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association.
The team is coached by a trio of community members within the local court system. Andrew Hoaglund is an assistant public defender and Jaime Grundman and Christine Barkley are judicial law clerks.
So far this season, the team is 2-1. Hoaglund said their next competition is Feb. 10. If they win, they’ll go onto sections and after that, the state competition at the end of February.
Fairmont’s team actually went to state in 2019 when the team was in its first year and last year the team was close to going to regionals.
This year, there are nine students on the team. While it’s open to students grades 7-12, the vast majority are upperclassmen. Grundman said several students have been on the team all four years.
Of course, the last two years Mock Trial has seen a shift from in-person competitions, to virtual competitions.
“The most recent contest, and I think going forward, we’re going to meet at the courthouse,” Hoaglund said.
Grundman pointed out that the courthouse isn’t used much in person right now so it’s pretty free. It’s also an opportunity for students to experience what it’s like to hold a trial in an actual courtroom.
All Mock Trial teams in the state are given the same case, most of which are based on real court cases. Every year it alternates between a criminal case and a civil case. This year’s case is a criminal case, a theft by swindle allegation.
Students and coaches meet to practice twice a week. Grundman said it’s also necessary that they practice on their own as well.
Fairmont’s students compete against 18 teams from the region, which includes Albert Lea, St. Peter, Lakeview, Northfield, Rochester Century and Luverne.
Students need to prepare a case for both the plaintiff and the defendant so most students have two roles. The student “attorneys” are scored on their direct and cross, as well as opening and closing arguments. Witness are also scored on their direct and cross. The trials are scored by volunteer judges or attorneys.
When asked what skills students take away from Mock Trial, Grundman said pubic speaking and problem solving.
“They have to be creative and they can’t rehearse everything. They learn how to put on a face,” said Hoaglund.
Grundman added that a lot of teamwork is required as well.
“They need to learn how to work together and support each other,” she said.
Fairmont High School’s extracurricular activities have a good mix of coaches who are also teachers, and coaches who are members of the community. Mock Trials’s coaches are in the latter group. They shared why they enjoy coaching the high school’s team.
“I did mock trial in college and really liked it. I wanted to find something to do in the community and after it was set up, it just worked that I could keep coaching every year. I like working with the students,” Grundman said.
Hoaglund also coaches boy’s soccer and said he wanted to get more involved in the community.
“It’s cool to see the program grow and fun to teach the kids about how to build a case,” he said.
Hoaglund added that he’s really proud of the students they have and the work they’ve done so far this season.
“Even though we have to do things by Zoom and it’s not ideal, they’re troopers. I think Mock Trial can be intimidating but we want to encourage anyone who’s remotely interested in learning how to argue a case or be part of a team to consider joining,” Hoaglund said.