Not many lawyers ever plead a case in a Supreme Court chambers. Fewer still before they attend law school – or even high school!
But that’s what happened to a crack team of budding barristers from Merrill Middle School on Wednesday afternoon at the Iowa Judicial Branch Building in the state capitol complex.
In the finals of the 34th annual Iowa Middle School Mock Trial Tournament, sponsored by the Iowa State Bar Association, a Des Moines school triumphed for the first time since 1986 when Merrill bested Harlan in State of Iowa vs. Baskin Robinson (aka, Murder at the Downtown Farmer’s Market).
Merrill drew the role of the prosecuting team. Channeling Elle Woods of Legally Blonde fame, Elle Green set the tone for the trial right from her opening statement when she confidently and methodically laid out the case against the defendant.
“Your honor, we will show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty as charged,” she declared, uninhibited by the auspicious venue, the standing room only gallery or the camera crews. Her teammates proved equally unflappable.
Coached by John McKinney and Randy Jackson, team members Crey Abbas, Alice Anderson, Isabelle Brace, Norah Egge, Elle Green, Ryan Huang, Nicholas Jackson, Maggie McKinney, Henry Mitchell, Chloe Neff and John Puri all played roles that included attorney and expert witness.
Both Merrill and its opponents were models of judicial decorum, whether citing statutes, introducing exhibits, raising objections, or requesting permission from the presiding judge (there were six in all who heard and scored the case) to approach witnesses or the bench.
Like buttoned-down boxers, they punched and countered in close quartered legal hand-to-hand.
All of the arbiters throughout the tournament were legal professionals, either judges from district and appellate courts or officials from the ISBA.
The six who heard the final round were David Porter (as presiding judge, he fielded and ruled on all of the exhibits and objections and swore in the witnesses), Emily Chafa, Steve Eckley, Tom Hillers, Anna Mundy and Kim Hardeman. Having considered all of the testimony and evidence, the decision they rendered was unanimous in Merrill’s favor.
Mock trial is a popular activity at Merrill. Participants train hard for the season, right from the opening bell of the school year. Every prior year they eventually got knocked out. But they kept coming back, like lawyers appealing earlier rulings. This fall the school assembled four teams and shared another with Callanan. Two were among the 34 that advanced to the state tournament. And one finally prevailed.
Call them the undisputed middleweight state champs.