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Mock trial team attains state runner-up

Shown in the front row are River Falls High School Mock Trial students, from left: witness Nick Cobian; witness Miranda Kieren; witness Greta Snow; attorney Marika Hanson; attorney Anna Luebke; attorney Dana Craig; attorney Britta Carlson; and witness Zion Zaloudek. Back row, from left: Honorable Brian Blanchard, Kevin Lonergan, Justice Daniel Kelly, Honorable Stephen Crocker, and Honorable John Jorgensen. (Photo courtesy of State Bar of Wisconsin)

 MADISON — The River Falls High School Mock Trial Team made school history by capturing the second place title in the Wisconsin Mock Trial tournament. It was the highest finish ever.

The semi-final round, held March 11, consisted of 24 teams — all regional winners — competing in four rounds of competition.

In each round, students served as either witnesses or attorneys to present a legal argument on a case.

According to RFHS's mock trial coach and teacher Heather Boleman, this year's teams argued a criminal case involving an opiate overdose and the alleged culpability of the defendant in the case, "Tristan Marks."

Boleman said that in any given round, each team serves as either the prosecution or the defense and that, typically, each team's prosecution and defense compete twice.

Student performances were evaluated by three judges in each round — one presiding judge and two performance judges.

The presiding judge rules on objections and casts a ballot for who he or she believes won the round based on legal argument.

The two performance judges score the round throughout its entirety. Each round is scored out of 110 points — 10 points each for opening and closing statements (20 points), 10 points for each direct and cross-examination (60 points), and 10 points for each witness (30 points).

In order to win a round, the team must win a majority of the ballots. The winners of the semi-final competition are decided first by rounds won, then ballots taken, and finally overall points.

At a banquet following the semi-finals, the River Falls team learned that it was one of two teams advancing to the final competition, to be held March 12 in the Wisconsin Supreme Court at the State Capitol.

"Because round winners are not announced during the day, no team knows its status," Boleman said. "We were ecstatic to learn that we were one of the top two teams and were advancing to the finals."

For the final competition, River Falls had the task of defending Tristan Marks.

Judging the final competition were Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, Federal Magistrate Judge for Western Wisconsin Stephen Crocker, Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge Brian Blanchard, Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge John Jorgensen, and Chair of the Public Education Committee of the State Bar of Wisconsin Kevin Lonegan.

Kelly served as presiding judge of the round. The other judges were the performances judges.

"At the awards ceremony following the conclusion of the round, Justice Kelly told us that it was an incredibly close decision, with Brookfield Academy winning by one ballot," said Boleman, adding that this is the closest that the River Falls Mock Trial Team has come to winning the state title.

Before this year, the highest placement at state for River Falls High School had been third place.

In addition to Boleman, Tracy Tool, an attorney with Bye, Goff, and Rohde in River Falls, served as the team's attorney coach.