After months of preparation, the West Salem mock trial team is finally going to get its day in court. The team will compete Saturday against teams from five other schools in the regional mock trial tournament at the La Crosse County Courthouse.
According to Jessica Kirchner, a La Crosse lawyer who is coordinator of the tournament, this year’s case is going to be particularly interesting.
“Last year’s case was a little on the technical side, but this year we have a murder case, and I think the students are a little more excited about it,” Kirchner said of the case, which is an attempted murder case.
Justin Glodowski, the teacher coach for the team, explained that the attempted murder involves a victim being shot numerous times by a classmate.
“The suspect and the victim are each witnesses in the case, and there are very few people that actually saw the shooting and very little evidence — even two police officers are on opposing sides of the case,” Glodowski said.
Kirchner, was involved in mock trial as a student at La Crosse Central and she said the public might find watching the proceedings entertaining.
Alex MacRogers, a “lawyer” for the West Salem team who will get to cross examine the victim, can vouch for how interesting the case is.
“I really enjoy this case because it’s a criminal case,” MacRogers said. “Last year the case was about adverse possession and was really kind of a chore because it was so boring.”
There will be three local schools competing — West Salem, La Crosse Logan and La Crosse Central. In addition, teams from Reedsburg, Boscobel and Prairie du Chien will travel to La Crosse for the day (the competition begins at 7:45 a.m. and lasts until around 5 p.m.).
Besides young would-be lawyers, mock trial teams attract students interested in acting and public speaking. Kirchner participated in mock trial when she was at La Crosse Central and now works at the same law firm as her former coach.
The lawyer coaches for the West Salem team this year are Ellen Thorn and Emily Hynek (La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke has helped in previous years but was swamped with cases this year. Kirchner said one of the best things about the mock trial competition is that the students get to try a case in a courtroom before a panel of three “real life” judges.
One of the judges acts as the presiding judge while the other two judges are scoring judges. During the day schools will pair off against other schools four times, with each round taking roughly an hour and a half.
The winner of the La Crosse regional will go on to participate in the state mock trial tournament in Madison in March. Teams get details of the case they will be trying in October and can start practicing soon after.
“The kids put an awful lot of work into this and a lot of times people don’t realize that,” Kirchner said. “I’m biased, but I think it’s a great extracurricular activity.
“The students not only know their role in the theatrically sense,” Kirchner continued, “but they also have to understand the legal aspect and that takes time.”
Kirchner added that, at the beginning of practice students will be very cautious about speaking, but by the time that the competition comes around they are usually very comfortable standing up and defending their positions.
“They have to be prepared for anything that’s thrown at them because you never know what another school’s take on the case will be,” Kirchner said.
Glodowski considers a mock trial to be competitive acting or competitive improvisation. “It can be very intense and students need to be able to think on their feet while remembering the extensive rules of the competition,” he said.
MacRogers participated last year, and he’s enthusiastic about matching wits with other students again this Saturday.
“The idea that you are competing against others with only your words really appeals to me,” MacRogers said.