Dozens of high school students were in the Delaware County Juvenile Court's four courtrooms Jan. 18, but they weren't in trouble with the law.

CORRECTION: Due to a source's error, the print version of this story listed an incorrect date for the mock-trial competition. The event was held Jan. 18. 

Dozens of high school students were in the Delaware County Juvenile Court’s four courtrooms Jan. 18, but they weren’t in trouble with the law.

Instead, they were arguing points of law in a district mock-trial competition, coordinated by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education and assisted by more than 30 local attorneys donating their time to help conduct the event.

Participating teams included those from Delaware Hayes, Big Walnut and Buckeye Valley high schools and Village Academy in Powell.

Teams of five to 11 students argued the merits of a motion in the fictional trial of a man accused of telecommunications fraud and aggravated theft.

The state’s case is based on enhanced drone footage that shows the defendant with an alphanumeric code used to commit theft. The defense has made a motion to dismiss the evidence as a violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.

Each high school team took part in two mock trials: one arguing for the state and another arguing for the defense.

Common pleas court Judge David Gormley has coordinated local mock trials for about 10 years.

The mock trials use a “trimmed-down version” of the normal rules of evidence, he said, which otherwise would be “a lot for a young person to digest.”

Other than that, he said, the events “look very much like a normal trial. ... It’s fun to watch.

“Some of these kids are extremely talented,” he said.

Hayes High School sophomore Mackenzie Collett is a returning competitor this year. She said mock trial has taught her many valuable skills, ranging from public speaking and time management to critical thinking and decision-making.

“It provides students like myself with an opportunity to learn about the law and our judicial systems in an immersive way,” Collett said.

She said Delaware-based law firm Thomas & Co. has served as the team’s legal adviser this year.

“We have all learned so much from them,” Collett said. “I’ve truly enjoyed my time on the team.”

Hayes teacher David Morgan is the adviser of the mock-trial team, which he said operates as an extracurricular activity at the school. For some schools, he said, the mock trials are an activity for business-law class.

He said the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education gives each participating school a booklet about 380 pages long, describing the details of the case, about two months before the mock trials.

The instructions, prepared by attorneys volunteering their time, cover a number of specific rules and procedures, he said.

“It’s very structured,” Morgan said.

Students portray both attorneys and witnesses, he said.

“To be a witness, you have to be a good actor and really know your character,” he said. “It becomes really fun when you get a good witness up there.”

Gormley said three attorneys volunteer their time for each mock trial, two as scoring judges and one as a presiding judge. Each team is judged on how well it performs a list of courtroom procedures, he said.

The presiding judge casts a tie-breaking vote if the scoring judges disagree on which team won a particular trial.

If a team argues for the state in the morning, it will argue for the defense in the afternoon.

In addition to the four juvenile courtrooms, a probate courtroom in the Hayes building was used for the mock trials, Gormley said.

The Ohio Center for Law-Related Education assigns the pairings for the schools participating in each event, Gormley said. 

At the Jan. 18 event, the Delaware Hayes team won both of its trials at the competition, as did the Buckeye Valley team, the Village Academy team and one of two teams from Westerville North High School. Those four winners will move on to the regional competition in February. 

The center is funded by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio Attorney General’s office, the Supreme Court of Ohio and the ACLU of Ohio.

The attorneys acting as presiding and scoring judges included Delaware Municipal Court Judge Marianne Hemmeter and county probate-juvenile Judge David Hejmanowski.

Other volunteering attorneys are Kristin Schultz, Megan Hammond, Michael Walton, Robert Rice, Andrew King, Kari Childs, Maribeth Meluch, Dan Bennington, Hillary Santiago-Burgos, Dennis Pergram, Eric Cross, Kate Munger, David Moser, Nick McCoy, Katie Stenman, Melissa Riggins, Sandy Disantis, Shane Dawson, Anna Franceschelli, Maryellen Reash, Darren Shulman, Shari O’Neill, Kim Burroughs, Bill Cramer, David Laughlin, Kyle Roher and Michelle Stratman.