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Archive for Thursday, February 8, 1996

COURT PUTS KNOWLEDGE ON TRIAL

February 8, 1996

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A mock trial at Southwest Junior High School is testing what students have learned about the criminal justice system.

Bruce Dickson wants to be a professional baseball player when he grows up.

Too bad.

Based on the exhibition he put on Wednesday during a mock trial in his ninth-grade social studies class, he would make a terrific lawyer. Even his teacher joked that she'd hire him.

How did the Southwest Junior High student explain how he's become so absorbed in his role as a defense attorney?

"I just like arguing," the 15-year-old said.

At times, his desire to plant doubt in jurors' minds can be overwhelming. After Wednesday's session of the mock trial, Judge Erin Harmon warned him, "Bruce, no more of that `Say yes' stuff to the witnesses."

Erin has her hands full keeping Bruce in line and overseeing a courtroom for about 40 minutes. But she runs a tight ship.

When teacher Sue Hack asked students what role they'd like to assume in the mock trial, Erin had no trouble deciding. Her grandfather, Kenneth Harmon, was a judge for more than 30 years in Leavenworth.

"I wanted to see what it was like to be in my grandpa's spot," said Erin, 15, who wore her grandfather's robe.

And she's enjoying it, even it if means reining in Bruce's exuberance every once in awhile.

"I just yell at him in front of everybody," said Erin, whose father, police Lt. Kevin Harmon watched the mock trial on Wednesday.

The trial is the culmination of about three weeks of study of the criminal justice system. The students learned about the players in the courtroom, and now they're getting to put their study into practice.

"It is interesting to watch them ask questions and think on their feet for the next direction they need to go," said Hack, who's staged mock trials for about seven years.

Last week, Hack provided attorneys and witnesses with information packets. Jurors watched "12 Angry Men." The trial that Erin presided over centered on a young man who was charged with burglarizing a school and stealing audio-visual equipment and food.

"It was pretty tough to prepare for," Bruce said. "It took a lot of time."

Hack expects the trial to go to the 30-student jury today. Their decision likely won't be unanimous, she said. The majority will rule in this case.

"I'm really very proud of the seriousness they're showing," she said, "and how they're participating."

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