Teen-agers Learn Courtroom Techniques Through Trial

Mock Proceedingshelp Discover Truth

March 10, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — A 16-year-old girl takes the witness stand in Courtroom One of the Carroll County Courthouse and swears to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

At first glance, the witness looks credible. But when she stumbles over the spelling of her name and states her credentials -- she is a physician at Hope Memorial Hospital -- something is clearly amiss.

"Dr. Jean Schweitzer" is really Kendall Crouch, a North Carroll High School sophomore, and the proceedings are actually a mock trial between North Carroll High and Hammond High in Columbia, Howard County.

Sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association, the competitionpits six-member teams against one another in legal dramas. Members play lawyers --who present their cases and conduct cross-examinations -- and witnesses.

In this competition, Carroll Circuit Judge Francis M. Arnold presides over the trial, which involves a husband's petition to become guardian of his disabled wife and suspend life-supportsystems.

In his role as the husband, North Carroll senior Mike Smith tells the court about his relationship with his fictitious wife, Jan Bornstein, who sustained severe brain damage in an automobile accident Nov. 19, 1989.

As Smith, portraying Jo Bornstein, begins to testify about the hardships on his children, a defense attorney objects and approaches the bench.

During such scenes, re-created from abooklet of testimony and trial information provided by the bar association, Arnold must rate each witness and attorney on credibility, properly phrased questions and presentation.

Susan Tabatsko, a NorthCarroll High School social studies teacher and coach of the school'smock trial team, says the students, mostly juniors and seniors, havespent countless hours preparing for the competition.

Carroll competes against Howard County teams, and the winners advance to compete against Anne Arundel County. Those winners then advance to state competition in May.

This North Carroll team, one of two from the school, has not won a match. And in this competition, Howard edges Carrollby six points to win, 81-75.

"It was a very good competition," Arnold says. "Both sides did a good job. I'm sorry I had to declare anybody a winner."

Despite the loss, the first-year members of the Carroll team say the mock trial competition has been a good experience.

"We wanted to see if we could do something like this," says LauraZumbrun, a Hampstead senior. "I wanted to see what it's like to be alawyer."

"No matter how much you rehearse, it's always difficult," adds Diane Flint, an Upperco junior.

The Hammond team expresses similar sentiments.

"I like the competition a lot," says Surekha Vajjhala, a sophomore. "But being a lawyer is really routine and tedious. It's not like 'L.A. Law.' It's not glamorous, and it's a lot moreformal."

James Fletcher says he joined Hammond's team because he always has been interested in mysteries and open to challenges.

"Ilike it a lot," says the junior, who played one of his team's three attorneys. "I like to find the truth in things."

Says their coach Joan K. Lane, a Hammond High School social studies teacher, "It's nice to win, but the most important thing is that they get involved, learn something and enjoy it."

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