What better way to learn about due process than to compete in a mock trial? A group of seventh and eighth graders from C.E. Murray Junior High School are heading to Sumter to do just that. The Mock Trial is sponsored by the South Carolina Bar Association, a state-wide competition held once a year. The program teaches the legal process and trial procedure.
The students, representing attorneys and witnesses will conduct a fictional case being tried in court. SC House of Representatives, Ronnie Sabb, is acting as coach for the fledgling council. On Thursday, October 1, Sabb arranged a formal introduction with the Honorable Judge Clifton Newman. "We were fortunate that they were having court this week and we got permission from Judge Newman so they could meet a real judge and see how he situates his court room," said Sabb. He added that Judge Newman offered some timely advice. "He basically cautioned them about the nervous tensions they feel and the temptation to move around and be twitchy and those kinds of things," said Sabb. "He challenged them to bottle-up their nervousness and make sure that they are deliberate in their movements and that their movements have meaning, rather than just moving around nervously." Afterward, the group converged on the Magistrate's Office for lunch and practiced their opening statements before Chief Magistrate Judge Ellerbe Ackerman.
The students will try a fictional case that is based upon a real court room. "Its actually a fact pattern that was given by the Bar for everybody," said Sabb. "All the children have the very same material. So, they will be judged on how well they deal with the material they've been given."
The case revolves around the unfortunate demise of a bull. "The facts pattern is really a lot of fun," said Sabb who was asked to volunteer by the team's coach, John Carey. "They (SC Bar) have nicely given both sides what we call ammunition, to be able to cross-examine and show the weaknesses in the other side's case. Its a brilliant fact pattern."
The students could go on to the Nationals - depending on the "verdict", but whatever the outcome Sabb sees it as a valuable learning experience. "Obviously, we hope that the children do well but more importantly we want to expose them to the system,” said Sabb. "This is one of those competitions - its not all about winning and losing. Its about the children going out, competing, having fun and gaining another educational experience."
The South Carolina Bar Association offers a variety of educational programs, awards, and scholarships for students. For additional information, visit scbar.org.