Hundreds of suburban high school students played the part of attorneys or witnesses Saturday at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows as part of a mock trial invitational.
More than 20 area high schools with teams of about 10 students each competed in the 16th annual Northwest Suburban Bar Association event. Timothy Christian in Elmhurst took first place earning 246 points. Each team member earned a $5,000 tuition waiver to John Marshall Law School, which co-sponsored the event.
Guerin College Prep in River Grove took second with 239 points, earning $2,000 waivers and Glenbard East placed third with 223 points and won $1,000 waivers.
Two Timothy Christian students also took individual honors. Josh Bootsma, a sophomore from Lombard, was named "Most Outstanding Witness" and Jasmine Stein, a senior from Villa Park was named "Most Outstanding Attorney." Her mother, Cathy, was one of the attorney advisers for her team.
"I think we did really well today," said Timothy Christian Coach Scott Roelofs. "I think we are peaking at the right time," he added with a smile. All teams are eligible to participate in the state competition next month. Most of the teams have been training since October.
The teenagers had about an hour and a half to present their trial that included opening and closing arguments and questioning four witnesses. Presiding judges served as judges and practicing attorneys were the jury and judged the trials.
The trial involving a contested will and testament served as a learning experience for the students as the practicing attorneys gave the teams advice on what they did well and how to improve.
Judge Thomas Roti told the students in his courtroom that he was looking for more objections from the defense team made up of students from Deerfield High School.
He added that the opening statements are critical. "Many attorneys feel an opening statement can win or lose a case," Roti said. He also suggested that the attorneys really press the witnesses. "Focus more like a laser beam," he told the students.
Attorney Scott Zambo complimented the students knowledge. "You haven't gone to college. You haven't gone to law school. You did a phenomenal job," he said. He suggested that students make eye contact with the jury during closing arguments and give them the facts. "It's literally like shooting bullets at the jury. You're giving them quick, short facts," he said.
Palatine attorney Neil Good, who has helped develop the mock trial over the past decade, said he is proud of the students and how professional the invitational has become.
Watching the students leave the courthouse and load onto school busses, he said, "They look like little lawyers, they act like lawyers and they dress like lawyers and maybe someday they will become lawyers."