In the last 25 years, more than 36,000 Maryland high school students have learned about the law in an entertaining and educational way through the Maryland State Bar Association’s (MSBA) Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition. Each year, 2,000+ high school students engage in lively and theatrical mock trial re-enactments, with the support of volunteer lawyers and judges, to learn firsthand about the law. MSBA presents this public education program annually to teach young people about our legal system and enhance their understanding of the law.
Now, as MSBA commemorates the mock trial competition’s 25th anniversary, it salutes the thousands of young Marylanders who have become more knowledgeable, well-informed citizens by participating in this interactive, learning experience. And another 2,000+ will soon join their ranks as this year’s competition winds down, culminating in the final championship at the Court of Appeals of Maryland on April 25, with the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, presiding.
The 25th anniversary celebration will be one of the highlights of the 2008 Mock Trial Competition Awards Luncheon on April 25 at the Sheraton Hotel in Annapolis, along with an inspiring message by Nancy Grasmick, the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Education. She will join Chief Judge Bell and MSBA President-Elect Katherine Kelly Howard in congratulating the members of the championship mock trial team and applauding all of the young people who participated this year. Every student comes away a winner.
The 2008 Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition actually commenced last fall, when 128 teams of high school students signed on for eight months of courtroom drama and began preparing for the contest with their team’s volunteer lawyer and teacher coaches. Each mock trial is held in a real courtroom with a real volunteer judge presiding to offer the students an upfront and realistic view of the key role attorneys and judges play in our justice system.
The mock trial program begins with local matches, advances to regional contests and ultimately concludes in a final state championship. Many teams perform up to 600 mock trial enactments with a volunteer judge presiding at each one. Teams devote an average of 100 hours to preparation and competition time, although some teams have put in over 150 hours.
The trials always feature a contemporary issue that impacts high school students’ lives. This year, the trial is a criminal case involving road rage, a timely topic that is a growing concern and potential threat to everyone. In this case, a young man has been charged with reckless driving in a road rage incident. This mock trial not only addresses the defense of the young man but explores broader issues like what leads to road rage and the accountability of young drivers.
This case really hit home. During the mock trial gatherings of the students and their teacher and lawyer coaches, a plethora of anecdotes citing actual road rage incidents were shared. Thus, such issues as anger management, the use of a car as a weapon, and even the ever-changing driving restrictions for young drivers surfaced.
MSBA’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP) has presented this educational legal contest since the High School Mock Trial Competition’s inception in 1983. “MSBA’s mock trial competition gives young people the opportunity to come into a real courtroom and learn about the law and our legal system while exploring a topic that can save lives,” states CLREP Director Ellery “Rick” Miller.
“In many ways, the Mock Trial program has come full circle in 25 years,” declares Shelley Wojciechowski, CLREP’s Assistant Director. “Its students have graduated from high school and college and many have chosen a career in the legal field and returned to the mock trial program to give back to it because, to many, it was the highlight of their high school education and a stepping stone to where they are today. It has provided thousands of students with the opportunity to develop a passion for the law and an inherent understanding of how the American legal system works.”
The Mock Trial Competition is a public education program that offers high school students a valuable insight into the workings of our justice system so they may better understand its function in society. They see the law in action and, hopefully, develop a more constructive attitude about our country’s legal system.