High school students hone legal skills while being judged by experts

Starting today, students from Grand Junction High School plan to play full-court press in pursuit of their third local title in as many years.

But don’t look for the high school team on any basketball court.

Mark Carris, coach of the Grand Junction High School mock trial team, said he and his students will compete today and Saturday at the Mesa County Justice Center, pressing their case before a panel of lawyers and judges.

“I think it’s a great competition for those students. … It’s very academic,” Carris said.

Carris said the eight teams will flip coins to see which side will be the prosecution and the defense. Once their mock trials are under way, the teams will be scored for their opening arguments, witness performances, the quality of their questioning of the witnesses and closing arguments.

The three-member judging panel will tally scores, and the team that wins on two or more ballots wins the round, Carris said. After each of five rounds, the top scoring teams to the lowest scoring teams pair up and start over.

The top two teams, Carris said, will advance to the March state championships in Golden.

Carris said Grand Junction High School has scored the highest of any School District 51 high school in 2004, 2007 and 2008.

John Siddeek, a lawyer who is chairman of the Mesa County Bar Association committee that organizes the mock trial competition, said the public is welcome to watch but is asked to not wear school colors or openly root for a team.

Siddeek said the judges do not know where each team hails from, to remove any bias from the competition.

Mesa County District Court Judge Brian Flynn, who will judge part of today’s competition, said every year he has participated in the competition, he has come away impressed with the students.

Mesa County Magistrate William McNulty, another competition judge, said the competition really showcases students’ passion for mock trial and the legal system.

“It’s nice to see the passion they bring,” McNulty said. “It makes us appreciate how lucky we are to be working in the courthouse in our legal system.”


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