Should a high school student be banned from walking with his class at a graduation ceremony because he organized a demonstration on gun ownership?

That's the scenario of a fictional lawsuit debated by students from seven high schools during the 2020 Ohio High School Mock Trial Competition on Jan. 17 at the juvenile and probate court in the Delaware County Hayes Building, 140 N. Sandusky St.

Five mock trials were held to debate the imaginary student's actions against his high school and the school's principal for an alleged infringement of his right to free speech.

The trials were part of a larger statewide program involving more than 3,000 students.

Students from three of the schools competing in Delaware -- Buckeye Valley, Dublin Jerome and Westerville North -- will advance to the regional competition based on their Jan. 17 performances.

Other teams were from Delaware Hayes, Big Walnut, Westerville Central and Fairbanks high schools.

The annual competition is sponsored by the nonprofit Ohio Center for Law-Related Education, funded by the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Foundation, the Ohio Attorney General's Office, the Supreme Court of Ohio and the ACLU of Ohio, said Delaware County Common Pleas Court Judge David Gormley, who coordinated the local competition.

The center helps prepare the students for the competition by providing extensive background material, said teacher David Morgan, who coaches the Hayes team. Local attorneys act as presiding and scoring judges during the mock trials, Gormley said.

One was Delaware County Prosecutor Melissa Schiffel.

"My heartfelt congratulations to all the students who participated in the mock-trial competition," she said. "Each displayed ambition, hard work and enthusiasm. Their efforts should be applauded. It's inspiring to see such young talent take an interest in the law. Our field will be in good hands in the future if these students seek a career path in the law."

Morgan said students received the materials for the case in October and worked four months on opening and closing statements, direct and cross-examinations and witness testimony.

"I think we were all very proud of the effort that went into this year's competition," he said.

The mock trial is an extracurricular activity at Hayes, Morgan said -- at least for now.

"There is a chance that this activity could be rolled into a class such as constitutional law that may one day be a class at Hayes," he said.

Gormley said the mock trials use scaled-back rules of evidence, but otherwise resemble real proceedings.

Morgan said it takes more than knowledge about the law to produce a successful effort.

Because students portray both attorneys and witnesses, they have to know their characters and display effective acting skills, he said.

Attorneys assisting the competition included Delaware County Probate Juvenile Court Judge David Hejmanowski and Delaware Municipal Court Judge David Sunderman.

Other attorneys who volunteered are Dan Bennington, Sandra Disantis, Eric Coss, John Celebrezze, Beth Fligner, Jessica Mager, Michael Tucker, April Campbell, Dennis Pergram, Juli Jones, Shane Dawson, Anna Franceschelli, Eric Becker, Kari Childs, Casey Clark, Robert Rice, Jon Olivito, Shari O'Neill, Heather Gall, David Moser, Pete Wade, Kim Burroughs, Wayne Sheppard, Mike Ringle, Brian Duncan, Jake Thorn and Beth Matune.

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