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posted: 12/18/2013 5:30 AM

Geneva High School students gain praise, pointers at mock trial

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  • David Comperda offers his testimony as the plaintiff as students at Geneva High School conduct a mock trial Tuesday for a car crash lawsuit that might have involved alcohol. Local attorney and former Kane County prosecutor, Kim Klein, right, acted as judge.

       David Comperda offers his testimony as the plaintiff as students at Geneva High School conduct a mock trial Tuesday for a car crash lawsuit that might have involved alcohol. Local attorney and former Kane County prosecutor, Kim Klein, right, acted as judge.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • "Defense attorney" Mitchell Bradberry questions a witness as students at Geneva High School conduct a mock trial Tuesday for a car crash lawsuit that might have involved alcohol.

      "Defense attorney" Mitchell Bradberry questions a witness as students at Geneva High School conduct a mock trial Tuesday for a car crash lawsuit that might have involved alcohol.

 
 

Geneva High School students earned pointers and praise Tuesday after holding a mock lawsuit trial involving a crash between two teenage classmates who might have been drinking.

Since 2008, Jennifer Dunlap has made the trial part of her Business Law Class curriculum, with the project amounting to 50 percent of each student's final grade.

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Kim Klein, a former Kane County Assistant State's Attorney now in private practice, served as the judge.

"You guys did a fantastic job. You really know the case. You obviously studied it and know it in great detail," Klein said, adding Dunlap's scenario "is such a good one for the kids because it's totally relevant."

The case involved a high school student whose car was rear ended by a fellow student on their way back from a party where alcohol was available.

The crash sent the first student's vehicle into a tree, resulting in a broken collarbone and broken nose after the air bags deployed.

The injured student sued the other student -- who had a Blood Alcohol Concentration of .05 -- for medical damages and the possible loss of a swimming scholarship. The legal limit is .08, but the second driver was cited under Zero Tolerance laws.

The defendant testified he was invited to a party, but learned there was alcohol being served. He didn't voluntarily have any, but someone spiked his pop with alcohol. He took a drink, realized what had happened, and left the party.

The defendant testified he was following his friend (the plaintiff), who activated his left turn signal, but veered to the right -- thus causing the crash.

Students were divided into two teams as lawyers, crash witnesses, doctors and of course, the plaintiff and defendant.

When inappropriate questions were asked, each side shouted out objections.

In the end, Klein "awarded" damages to the injured driver, but capped it at 50 percent, saying his "contributory negligence" also was a factor in the crash.

One pointer Klein gave students was not to assume the judge knows as much about the case as the attorneys do.

"You definitely could have gotten much more in detail with these witnesses. There's a lot more you could have asked," she said. "If you want me to make a decision on that, it has to be asked in court. Everything in between (opening and closing arguments) is the important stuff."

Geneva Police Det. Brad Jerdee, who serves as the school's liaison officer, said he was impressed by the students' preparation.

One tip, he said, is that students should not have been afraid to ask more pointed questions to witnesses -- even if it results in the other side objecting to it.

"Always ask it, at least somebody hears it," Jerdee said, noting if a judge sustains an objection that's not necessarily a bad thing. "If you have a jury, they'll say, 'I see what they're getting at.' People start to make their own conclusions in their head, so always ask it if you can."

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