Education

St. Joe’s students get legal experience

Students at St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy are gearing up for their next mock trial competition, slated for Thursday night against DuBois Area High School at the Centre County Courthouse.

The team previously competed in two mock trial competitions this school year, which helped them prepare for “districts.”

Tournament at PSU prepared team for district competition

On Jan. 14 and 15, the team participated in the Blue and White Courtroom Classic at Penn State, which included teams from high schools around the country.

Although St. Joe’s didn’t win as a team, a couple students were recognized.

Senior Sophia DeNezza and freshman Owen Helfer were awarded “Outstanding Witnesses” — a recognition that 11 of 78 witnesses received, spokeswoman Carrie Fox said.

The team’s first district match was Jan. 18 against the club from Bellefonte Area, which took place at the Centre County Courthouse.

SJCA students competed as the defense team and earned their first district win.

The team’s adviser, Shelly Mato, described her team as “prepared” and “professional.”

I actually think this is one of the most rigorous and difficult of academic competitions, because students have to know so much, learn such a breadth of real and fake information, and then they have to be able to act, as well.

Shelly Mato, team adviser

“I actually think this is one of the most rigorous and difficult of academic competitions, because students have to know so much, learn such a breadth of real and fake information, and then they have to be able to act, as well,” Mato said.

Mato said mock trial allows students to participate in academic competition that includes fostering leadership and public speaking skills. The goal is for students to experience a trial setting, to increase students’ knowledge of the law as a profession.

This year’s team has 14 members. Two are substitutes, and one student, senior Joonho Cho, competes on the defense and prosecution teams.

“Once we enter the courtroom, the students are on their own,” Mato said. “They cannot communicate with me or our attorney adviser.”

Mock Trial is a competition where students from across the state take on a case created by the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Pennsylvania Bar Association each year, Mato said.

Case materials include what real case would have — witness statements, exhibits, expert witness statements, pretrial rulings, stipulations and charge to the jury.

In a two-hour competition, the students present opening statements, question witnesses on direct and cross examinations, make and answer objections, present evidence and make a closing argument.

A real judge also oversees the proceedings, while the jury is made of local lawyers, law students and law clerks.

Points are awarded based on competence and handling of the materials, knowing the laws and rules and procedures, and handling of witnesses.

High schools in three counties make up Region 4

Other area schools participating in mock trial districts include Bald Eagle Area, Bellefonte, Central Mountain and State College high schools.

Northcentral Region 4 includes schools from Centre, Clearfield, Clinton and Jefferson counties.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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