Preparing cases for court helped students making career choices and taught them about the legal system Saturday during the Arkansas Bar Association Mock Trial Regional Competition.
The Jefferson County Courthouse was one of four venues around the state Saturday for the contest. The other three regional sites included Conway, Jonesboro and Fort Smith.
Bill Mann, chief deputy city attorney for Little Rock, served as the official representative of the Arkansas Bar Association for the Pine Bluff competition.
“This is an opportunity for students to learn to think on their feet,” Mann said. “It is also a good hands-on civics lesson for them. I think the biggest thing to be gained from this experience is the improvement in self-esteem that comes with participation. They learn to overcome their nervousness.”
Mann said that his daughter competed in mock trial in 2006 and got a lot out of it.
The ABA provided the teams with a legal case, Neesen v. Town of Butler, involving a teenager, Christopher Neesen, who is killed in a car crash after another teenager, Jamie Adams, who is being pursued by a local law enforcement officer from Butler, Ark., crashes into Neesen’s vehicle.
All teams had to be able to represent both sides of the case, with the side each team would play being decided by a coin toss.
Matt Dempsey, coach of the Catholic High School team from Little Rock, said that his students had been preparing for the competition since November.
“This is the first year that Catholic has participated in mock trial but our students have done really well,” Dempsey said. “It has been a lot of work and a lot of pressure but I have been impressed with their performance.”
Dempsey’s squad of young men from the all boys school served in the competition as attorneys for Neesen’s father, who sought $5.5 million in damages from the town of Butler, alleging that the police officer pursuing the vehicle that hit Neesen should not have entered into the pursuit.
Jacob Hopkins, a junior at Catholic, served as one of the attorneys for the plaintiff.
“Both of my parents are attorneys so I decided to do mock trial to get a feel for what they do,” Hopkins said. “I actually want to be a writer and to be a good writer you need to be well-rounded, so mock trial gives me the chance to add to my experiences and to understand more about the world.”
Greyson Cauley, a Catholic High sophomore, aspires to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
“My mother is an attorney and she’s also one of the team coaches,” Cauley said. “I’d been to several of these before and I decided that it would be good to participate in it. It definitely helps with public speaking. I plan to become a U.S. Marine Corps officer. The skills learned in mock trial, including being able to think on your feeet and public speaking, will translate to the Marine Corps. You need to think on your feet in the infantry and you need to be able to speak effectively to your platoon.”
Cauley gave his team’s opening statement before Circuit Judge Earnest Brown of Pine Bluff, who volunteered for the event.
Michelle Cauley is Greyson’s mother as well as a team coach.
“I cannot tell you how proud I am,” Michelle Cauley said of her son’s performance. “These guys have spent every Saturday for the past two months preparing for this competition. They have come so far.”
The nearly all female entry from Monticello High School played the role of attorneys representing the Town of Butler.
The Monticello team sought to prove that the Butler officer, Delaney DeShane, did nothing wrong in the pursuit; and that Neesen contributed to the accident by texting on his phone at the time of the accident.
Sara Hartness has been coaching the Monticello team for a decade.
“These students have been excellent,” Hartness said of her team. “They’ve been working hard.”
Elizabeth Wilson is a junior at Monticello.
“I first did mock trial in the ninth grade for civics class and really enjoyed it,” Wilson said. “I thought then that it would be a possible career path for me but I don’t think so anymore. This experience teaches you professionalism and prepares you for your future. It also gives you a lot of respect for the people who do this for a living.”
Wilson has shifted her career goal to becoming an anaesthesiologist.
Erin Ashcraft is a Monticello junior who said that her participation on the school’s Forensics Team and her mother’s involvement as a coach led her to mock trial.
“It looks really good on a resume,” Ashcraft said with a smile when asked why she was participating in mock trial. “It’s educational and teaches you about quick thinking.”
Mary Kate Jones is another Monticello junior who was attracted to mock trial because of the opportunity for acting.
“I’m a part of the drama club so it’s been fun to be able to play a witness,” Jones said. “This has also helped us to understand court procedures better.”
Judge Brown ultimately determined the winners.
“In a very, very close competition Catholic High won this round,” Brown said.
Catholic High School was scheduled to take on a team from Sheridan High School in the final round.
“Both the first and second place teams from each of today’s regional competitions will move on to the state competition next week,” Mann said.
The state competition will take place at the Pulaski County Courthouse March 9.