Grosse Pointe South students competing in real life mock trials


Seal of the Michigan Supreme Court

Evan Skaff '18, Staff Writer

Grosse Pointe South’s mock trial team is back this year for its sixth year of competition. The Michigan Center for Civic Education runs the tournament. There are six to ten kids on a team and the competition is held with real judges in a real courtroom.

“I don’t know if I would call it a club per say, but it’s an organization at South that is the sixth year I’ve been coaching in mock trial,” mock trial coach and social studies teacher Peter Palen said. “It is a team, but it isn’t a team in the sense of sports, it’s an academic team that competes in a real life trial that will take place in March in front of Oakland County circuit court judges.”

There are two rounds to make it to the state championship, the first round (regionals) is divided by county, while the final round (state championships) are chosen by the ten teams from the region.

“It’s schools from across the state, from Macomb County, Wayne County, Oakland County and the west side of the state and even all the way in the Upper Peninsula compete,” Palen said. “It’s the same case that has been given to everybody. This year the case is about police brutality, the rights of the accused and whether or not the police basically were brutal in their treatment of somebody they arrest.”

Each team has a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 people, but the students can have more than one team representing South. That will give students a better chance to win and get more experience, mock trial participant Daniel Kuhnlein ‘17 said.

“We went to the state tournament in 2014 and we placed fourth in the state,” Palen said. ”The competition is going to take place March 4 at the Macomb County Court House in Mount Clemens, and if we win there then we would advance to the state finals, which is held in the state capitol building on March 26 in Lansing.“

In the past the club meetings on Thursday nights in social studies teacher DeEtte Nardone’s room, but they will now be meeting in Palen’s room.

“The experience I’ve had with mock trial is incredibly valuable considering I want to pursue law in the future,” participant Charlie Francis ‘17 said. “Anyone who is interested in law should participate in mock trial because it gives you a flavor of what a real trial feels like.”

This is non-scripted so it forces you to think on your feet, which is a very valuable skill, Palen said.

“The cool part about mock trial is that we actually go to the county courtroom and have the trials,” Francis said. “Since not enough schools participate in mock trial in Wayne County, we have to choose between the Macomb and Oakland County court houses. We do everything normal attorneys and witnesses would do: go through security, prepare opening statements and closing arguments, ask and answer questions, make objections, all in front of real judges.”

Palen said there are many positive things students can get out of mock trial.

“I believe it’s one of the best opportunities that is of benefit to high school students,” Palen said. ”They learn self-confidence, they learn how to speak in public, they learn how to think on their feet and to adjust their strategy in the middle of a trial; they get practical experience of what it means to be a lawyer, they learn about hard work and preparation and showmanship and writing and technology and teamwork. There’s a million reasons a student should join mock trial and the icing on the cake is that it looks good on a college resume.”