A group of Woodbury High School students will find themselves in court this week.

The WHS Mock Trial team will be heading to the state championship Thursday and Friday, March 3-4, at the Ramsey County Courthouse in St. Paul.

“I’m looking forward to winning,” WHS junior and Mock Trial co-captain Lemuel Amen said. “I’m very confident, almost to the point of arrogance.”

This is the first time that the WHS Mock Trial has advanced to the state championship since 2011. WHS defeated East Ridge High School in the regional finals to advance.

“It’s really fun to see how far we’ve progressed in our arguments, in or theories and our witnesses,” WHS senior and Mock Trial co-captain Grace Weber said. “This is the furthest I’ve gotten in four years, so it’s nice that senior year it’s finally paying off.”

Mock Trial

The Minnesota Mock Trial program, which is sponsored by the Minnesota Bar Association, offers students a chance to learn about the courtroom. Each fall the team gathers to receive a “case,” which is based on an actual trial. Cases alternate between criminal and civil.

This year’s case is the State of Minnesota vs. Jack/Jackie Peifer, which is based on a 1933 kidnapping case.

“It’s our first kidnapping case,” Weber said, “which is a lot of fun.”

“It provides a lot of interesting opportunities in that it’s applying a new law,” Amen said of the case. “We’re either arguing that Jack Peifer is guilty of completely doing the kidnapping or of aiding and abetting in the kidnapping.”

After receiving the case the students then go to work assigning the roles. Each student takes on the persona of either attorney or witness.

“I don’t have a more lawyery-mindedness I guess,” said Weber, who is a lawyer on WHS’ Mock Trial team, “it’s just me being a bit louder and more opinionated.”

“I think smarmier, more snarky than I normally am,” said Amen, who is also a lawyer.

While preparing for Mock Trial competitions, the students discuss every possible scenario and every possible question and response that they can include in their case.

“It’s good to start with a theory,” Amen said.

Additionally, the students have to rehearse both the prosecution and defense testimonies - since they never know which side they will have to argue at the trial.

Even though each Mock Trial team is arguing its side of case, the winner of the competition isn’t necessarily the team who wins the case. A winner is generally the team that is judged as the most well prepared and has the most understanding of the case.

Licensed attorneys serve as the judges in Mock Trial.

Skills of the team

WHS Mock Trial coach Gwender Sterling said she has great confidence in this year’s team because many of the students have been with the program for multiple years.

“The longer the students are involved, it gives the coaches more opportunity to learn the students,” she said. “We know the students and the students know us, which helps us know what to work on.”

During the state tournament each team will compete in three different trials, both defense and prosecution. The top two teams will compete in a fourth trial to determine the winner.

The winning team at state will advance to the national Mock Trial competition, sponsored by the National Bar Association, to be held this May in Idaho.

“We’ve been planning to go to nationals and thinking about potatoes since the beginning,” Sterling said, “and here we are, we’re so close.”

A new case for the national finals will be given out in April.

Becoming national Mock Trial champions doesn’t come with any specific prizes, only bragging rights.

“We get a lot of street cred among the tightly knit Mock Trial world,” Amen said.

Even though Mock Trial doesn’t award any physical rewards, it does provide its students with a lot of lifelong skills such as public speaking, thinking on your feet, looking at problems differently, humility and courtroom etiquette.

“I hope I never have to go to court,” Weber said, “ but if I do I know how to respect the judge and represent myself in a trial.”

Being a part of Mock Trial can also be an asset for the future, Sterling said, as evidenced by one former student who went on to be an intern at the White House and another who received a six-figure job training lawyers.

“You really can see that what you do in school pays off,” she said. “Stick with Mock Trial even if you don’t want to be a lawyer.

“It’s rewarding to me to see that this particular activity pays off more than students can even imagine.”