Local schools place among top four in annual courtroom competition

SUBMITTED PHOTO: COURTESY OF RIVERDALE SCHOOL DISTRICT - Riverdale High School students Grant Roulier and Sarah Gordon competed during the state tournament in the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on Friday and Saturday. Their team took third place.Riverdale and Lake Oswego high schools took home third and fourth place, respectively, in the 30th annual Oregon Mock Trial competition last week.

It is the second consecutive year Riverdale has placed third at state and the best placement for LOHS in at least a decade, says Jefferson Moore, LOHS social studies teacher and Mock Trial adviser.

“I feel really, really good about it,” Moore says. “These kids are really proud of themselves, and we are proud of them too!”

It was the LOHS Navy team that was recognized at state, although the school had a White team that also made it to regionals. Though they’re among the best in the state, LOHS and Riverdale team members and leaders say they have gotten so much more from the competition than accolades, including developing academic skills and building relationships with people they may not otherwise have gotten to know.REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Lake Oswego High School students Evelyn Bizovi (prosecution opening and closing), Anna Hicks (prosecution-direct) and Spencer McLaughlin (prosecution-cross) practice before the big state tournament. LOHS landed fourth place in the state competition.

“Our team becomes a family every year,” says MacKenna Gordon, who was a cross-examining attorney on the LOHS Navy team.

Last Friday and Saturday, 18 teams entered into three rounds of competition to see who could best argue the criminal case of “State of Oregon v. Bobby Dousa” in the storied courtrooms of Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland. Altogether, 44 schools contended at regionals for a coveted place in the state championships.

West Linn High’s Gold Team (the school had two teams in the event) and Catlin Gabel faced off in the final round; West Linn triumphed, giving the Lions their second consecutive state title. West Linn now proceeds to the National Mock Trial Competition, which is scheduled from May 12-14 in Boise, Idaho.

Jeff Brown, a Riverdale social studies/language arts teacher and the school’s Mock Trial organizer, says students may not have bested West Linn, but they are proud of doing so well. The school had two teams compete at regionals, with the Blue Team moving forward. The skills the Riverdale Blue and White teams obtained will be beneficial in the long run, Brown adds.

“The academic skills involved — critical thinking, critical reading, supporting arguments with evidence, writing, revision, teamwork and helping one another to be the best they can be — transfer to college and the workplace,” he says.SUBMITTED PHOTO: COURTESY OF  RIVERDALE SCHOOL DISTRICT - Riverdale High students celebrate their school's second consecutive third-place win at state.

Classroom Law Project is a nonprofit organization launched in 1983 that for 30 years has led Mock Trial, one of the programs it spearheads in its effort to teach students values and skills crucial to serving as an involved citizen of a democracy.

“Mock Trial has helped me develop public speaking skills and work cohesively with a team,” says Gabe Abdellatif, a Riverdale junior. “It’s a lot of close reading and detail work that would be difficult to complete without the support of a team. Everyone played an integral role and we owe our success to (our) ability to work together.”

LOHS senior and Navy team member Brett Walker says he’s taken away some crucial life skills.

“I would say it’s helped my ability to think on my feet and my ability to come up with a solid argument in a limited amount of time and able to defend myself in a way that’s useful for the business world and every day,” Walker says.

Walker noted before the competition that he is devoted to his team and wanted it to succeed, but that the school already had obtained its goal.

“Our main goal was to get to state, and we achieved that, but we always want to push it to the next level to see where we can go,” says Walker, who served as witness Dousa for the proceedings.

LOHS senior Lauren Working, who plays shortstop on the school softball team, says she had been anxious but was also looking forward to the experience of competing as a witness on the Navy team.

“I’ve never been nervous after so many years on the field,” Working says. “It’s just different coming from one playing field to another.”

During the competition, students posing as eyewitnesses, expert witnesses and character witnesses held forth on everything from what happened the night of the crime to the effects of the drug Rohypnol. Students portraying attorneys debated whether Dousa really had drugged Addie Anderson, the star basketball player of a rival school; drew his school’s mascot on her face in permanent marker; and took a photo later posted on Facebook. (Anderson also could be played as a male.) Issues of cyber-bullying and Internet privacy were key discussion points.REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - LOHS students under the coaching of local legal experts Martha Hicks (right) and Larry Peterson prepare for the state tournament. The students are, from left: Kendra Jackson, expert witness Dr. Layne Juarez; Emma Austin, defense-opening statement; witness Emerson Kannan; Jack Livingston, defense-closing; Brett Walker, defendant Bobby Dousa; MacKenna Gordon, defense-cross; Autumn Mosley, defense-direct; Evelyn Bizovi, prosecution-opening and closing; and Anna Hicks, prosecution-direct.

Real legal professionals judged the Mock Trial proceedings: U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon presided; other legal experts included Lewis & Clark Law School Dean Jennifer Johnson, attorney Steve Piucci, education consultant Susie Marcus and U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman.

Top-tier legal professionals also support local teams. Martha Hicks, an LOHS coach and assistant disciplinary counsel at the Oregon State Bar, says Mock Trial helps young adults be informed citizens when it comes to what is happening in the courtroom. And the program offers much more, Hicks adds.

“Every year, I see the kids learn to tackle a problem, to revisit the material for overlooked details, to gain confidence in their knowledge and presentation skills,” she says. “And every year, I see a group of kids who would likely never even speak to one another at school become friends, learn to rely upon each other and genuinely desire to help each other be the best that he or she can be. This they do with such grace and humor and respect that I feel privileged to be included in the process and honored to know each of them.”

Working says many of her teammates do travel in different circles. For example, she’s a four-year softball player, whereas Gordon is deeply involved in acting, teammate Anna Hicks is a flutist in a Portland ensemble and Walker is among four people to earn a place on the U.S. team in his age division for the rock-climbing world championships.

“It’s fun to get to know people from different walks of life,” Working says.

As seniors, Working, Walker and Gordon now must move on.

“It’s sad this is the end,” Working says. “It’s like stepping onto the field one last time, stepping into the courtroom one last time.”

But there are some strong contenders who plan to keep the team’s momentum going, including LOHS junior Anna Hicks, Martha Hicks’ daughter. Anna Hicks, a direct examiner on the Navy team, says she is proud of the huge jump from 10th last year to fourth this year.

“This finish gives me high hopes for next year,” she says. “We have a strong base with the returning seniors, and we are building up our Mock Trial program.”

Contact Jillian Daley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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