GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Junior high students from Green Cove Springs recently participated in the school’s first mock trial competition at the Old County Courthouse.
The contest was conducted through the Justice Teaching Institute run by Annette Pitts and former Florida Supreme Court Justice, the Honorable Fred Lewis.
Civics teacher Anne O’Renick was approached by Pitts to prepare a team. Thankfully, ELA instructor April Switzer had a lot of legal experience having practiced law before becoming a teacher. Preparation was very rigorous ahead of the trial.
Thirteen ambitious students rose to the challenge. The students met every Friday night after school to develop their skills as both attorneys and witnesses. The trial was not scripted, so the students had to write opening statements and closing statements as well as questions for direct and cross-examination. They also needed to practice objections and how to respond when challenged. They learned higher level legal skills, such as how to analyze the elements of a crime and how to present evidence according to the Rules of Court.
With the support of the county clerk's office, specifically Mary Justino and Stacey Smith, the students were able to film their trial at the old courthouse. This would not have been possible without Justino and Smith, who opened the courthouse after hours for the trial.
The team finished 18th of the 78 teams that participate throughout the state. Both teachers are hoping to continue to coach students from Green Cove Springs Junior for this statewide competition. The students rose to the challenge and were willing to work very hard to make this possible. This was truly a group effort, and everyone was willing to do what was needed to complete the trial.