Ohio University

Alumni, legal community help give high school students hands-on experience in Summer Law & Trial Institute

Published: July 21, 2021 Author: Staff reports

Twenty high school students from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania got to try their hands at a career in law through the 2021 Summer Law & Trial Institute at Ohio University, concluding with a mock trial that their friends and family could watch online.

More than two dozen OHIO alumni, attorneys and judges—including Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor—shared their wisdom, experience and career advice, helping the students get new perspectives on the law and prepare for their mock trial through the institute, hosted June 13-21 by the Center for Law, Justice & Culture.

Founded in 2016 by CLJC Pre-Law Advisor and alumnus Larry Hayman, Esq ('03 B.A. Political Science), the institute was held virtually for the second year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"The caliber of students who apply to be a part of the Summer Law & Trial Institute continues to impress me every year," Hayman said. "We had 70 applications for 20 available seats. While we were unable to be on Ohio University's campus this year, the students selected for the program excelled. They were challenged to think critically about law and justice challenges of the 21st century, they engaged in experiential learning, and they learned about college majors and co-curricular experiences available at OHIO for those interested in studying law. They also met with dozens of lawyers and judges as well as current and former Ohio University pre-law students."

Chyane Sims, a rising senior at Lincoln Park Performing High School in Midland, Pennsylvania, applied to the program because she was drawn to the mock trial portion. "The mock trial at the end of the program put the icing on the cake for me," she said. "I appreciate that the program was not limited to discussing only law, but that all my questions about Ohio University and college in general were answered."

Courtroom observations and interactive experiences

The program was able to recreate several of the site visits the students usually make, including observing an oral argument at the Supreme Court of Ohio, meeting with Chief Justice O'Connor and virtually visiting the Athens County Court of Common Pleas.

The students engaged in rigorous coursework on law and the American legal system, including learning about the access-to-justice gap, plea bargaining, and practicing professionalism and ethics. Sessions included interactive exercises on textual analysis, case briefings, and negotiations. They also learned about professionalism, courtroom decorum, and collaboration.

Hayman led the program with two current OHIO students, Ellen Gill-Franks and Daniela Grijalva, who served as program assistants.

Grijalva, a graduate student in the M.A. in Law, Justice & Culture program, applied to be a program assistant because she saw it as an excellent opportunity to work with aspiring young people in Appalachia and to help create the changes she wanted to see in the world around her.

"My favorite part of this position was getting to work with the amazing participants to navigate, understand, and critically analyze the topics brought up by each of the different presenters during the program," she said. "I feel my own understanding of the justice system has been extremely enhanced, and I have a much clearer picture of the many different opportunities I might pursue as a young professional in the field and the ways I can combine my passions, skills, and interest in a way that will truly benefit the world around me."

Gill-Franks, a senior studying English pre-law and sociology and criminology while pursuing a Certificate in Law, Justice & Culture went through the program herself as a high school student in 2016. It introduced her to the law and justice community at Ohio University, including serving in leadership roles in the OHIO Mock Trial Team, Students Defending Students, and many others. This was her second year serving as a program assistant.

Networking with OHIO alumni and friends in law-related fields

As in past years, dozens of alumni and friends in legal careers joined the institute to work with students. For example, Athens Chief City Prosecutor Tracy Meek, Esq. ('03 Political Communication) and criminal defense attorney Margaret "Peggy" Smith Replogle, Esq. ('93 Political Science) taught students about their respective roles in the criminal justice system.

Similarly, students were able to learn about plea bargaining from Athens County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Pepper. Esq. ('03 History) and Attorney Karyn Justice, Esq. a criminal defense lawyer from Portsmouth. The students were then divided into groups of prosecutors and defense attorneys, each with their own confidential "client information" and engaged in negotiating and plea bargaining.

Students were also given the opportunity to meet with various representatives of organizations across Ohio, including,

In addition to exploring a myriad of law and justice issues, the students learned how to put on a virtual mock trial. After observing demonstrations by the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, students learned the component parts of a trial. Columbus Chief City Prosecutor Joseph M. Gibson ('05 Political Science) taught the students the difference between Direct Examination and Cross Examination and how to do each. Amy Flowers, Esq. ('05 Political Science) taught Trial Decorum while Athens County Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile and Probate Division Judge Zachary Saunders ('08 Political Science) taught the Rules of Evidence and Objections. Athens City Attorney Lisa Eliason ('76 Education) closed out the trial practice portion of the program by teaching the students how to write and deliver a closing argument.

"Despite being virtual, the program was inclusive and kept us engaged," participant Sims said. "The highlight of my experience was interacting with my peers in the program and discussing topics with our special guests." She found Flower's presentation to be particularly eye-opening. "I realized just how important some details are while presenting in mock trial, such as using inclusive language."

 

Capstone mock trial experience

At the end of the first week of the program, students tried out for different roles for the capstone mock trial experiences. Ultimately, the students were divided into four teams, two prosecution teams and two defense teams, with two attorneys and three witnesses per team. They then spent the weekend formulating their cases for trial in the case of New Columbia v. Chris Archer, which they presented on Monday, June 21, in a virtual courtroom in front of Athens County Common Pleas Judges George McCarthy and Saunders.

The trials were live streamed on YouTube and can be viewed online:

Judge Saunders ('08 Political Science) served as judge during the second of the two trials. This was his third year participating in the program.

"I was once again honored to be a part of this program," Saunders said. "It is one of the highlights of my year. I was highly impressed with the students' performance at the mock trial. They were prepared, motivated, and used the knowledge they gained during the program at the trial. … I only wish that a program like this existed when I was in high school. SLTI, especially for Appalachian students, gives them much-needed guidance regarding college majors and law careers while providing them a much-deserved opportunity to showcase their skills when given a chance."

Both judges gave feedback to the student attorneys and witnesses after both sides rested their cases.

At the conclusion of both of the cases, the matter was then sent to a virtual jury. The first trial resulted in a hung jury on all counts, meaning that the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous conclusion. In the second trial, the jury was hung on the second-degree murder charge, but convicted the defendant, Chris Archer, of the misdemeanor charge of hazing.

Educational and career exploration

The students' experiences also included discussions about educational opportunities and career possibilities. Dr. Smoki Musaraj, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, joined the students to talk with them about different opportunities available for undergraduate and graduate study through the center. The students also participated in panel discussions with both current lawyers and law students.

The first panel, "What Can I Do With A Law Degree?" featured Robert Foehl, Esq., ('91 Business), Barbara Nalazak, Esq., and Reed. The panelists spoke about their variety of experiences, including time they spent as prosecutors, corporate in-house counsels, lobbyists, government attorneys, in academia, as judicial attorneys and more.

The second panel featured recent Ohio University alumni who are currently in law school. The law students provided insight to the program participants interested in pursuing pre-law opportunities at OHIO, including the Ohio University Mock Trial Team, various student organizations, the Center for Law, Justice & Culture, internship experiences, and others.  The panel included Ryan Crowley ('19 History) a rising third-year law student at Delaware Law School, Taryn Osborne ('19 Political Science Pre-Law, Spanish minor, LJC Certificate), a rising second-year law student at Case Western Reserve University School of Law,  and Lydia Wendel ('20 Political Science Pre-Law, Anthropology minor, LJC Certificate) a rising second-year law student at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

The program participants were able to meet with Athens County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick Lang ('99 Political Science), who joined from his courtroom to explain the role of a judge and to answer questions. They were also able to learn about the role of legal support professionals, from current M.A. in Law, Justice & Culture student Miranda West ('18 Legal Studies).

At the conclusion of the program, students were required to participate in a post-program survey. They expressed overwhelmingly positive feedback about their experience in the program, and they collectively expressed an increased interest in pursuing a legal career and attending Ohio University as a result of their experiences.

The Summer Law & Trial Institute was free to all students and made possible by generous donations from OHIO alumni.