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Ike students hone judicial skills

The judge quieted the courtroom just as Katie Charles, charged with vehicular manslaughter, was asked why she would never drive drunk. 

Struggling to hold back tears, Charles finally said, "My little sister was killed in a car accident two years ago because of a drunk driver."

Despite Charles' raw, emotional response that stunned everyone in the courtroom into silence, this wasn't a real trial. It was a rehearsal for a mock trial competition at the Youth and Government State Conference in Oklahoma City last February. 

"Charles" was played by Curtis Myers and the judge was Katie Van Horn, two of the 36 students attending the competition from Eisenhower High School's Youth In Government chapter.

Sponsored by the YMCA, Youth and Government is a national program established in 1936, which allows high school students to learn first-hand about participating in government on the local, state, national, and international levels; taking on roles in the legislature, judicial or the news and media. In 2000, the American Bar Association began supporting the program. Oklahoma joined the program 66 years ago.

Each year, students with high scores at the spring competition in Oklahoma City are selected to compete against students from 38 states across the nation at the National Judicial Competition in Chicago during the summer. They will compete in mock trials and appellate competitions. Other students can be selected to attend the YMCA Conference on National Affairs in Montgomery, Ala., this summer where students try to get bills through a model state legislature.

This year, nine of the 28 Oklahoma students selected for the National Judicial Competition are from Eisenhower and Van Horn was selected for the YMCA Youth Conference on National Affairs. 

"It was a surprise. In the past we may have had one or two students selected ... some years we have had no one qualify," said Michelle Churchwell, program sponsor and Eisenhower High teacher, citing a major growth in the number of students joining the six-year-old club and more preparation for the competition. Eisenhower High is the only public school in Lawton to offer the program.

Those selected to attend the National Judicial Competition this summer are: Myers, Sydney Price, Ida Sukar, Abbey Phelps, Kyndall Erricson, Mitchell Sadler, Liz Propst, Luke Churchwell, Brittney Payette and Myers. Myers is the only witness going to the competition, the rest are attorneys. 

The club

Club members select what part they want to take in legislative, judicial or in news/media. If a student selects judicial, then they can decide to take on the role of an attorney or witness.

If a student wants to be a judge, their peers vote them in, Churchwell said. Eisenhower has several judges including Van Horn.

Each year, the club tries to do more to prepare the members for their judicial roles including "ensuring cases are being written and that the partners (attorneys) are working hard together. There is a lot of practice," Churchwell said. 

Practice for the state competition begins in earnest in the early fall when the Oklahoma clubs receive the judicial trial case for the competition. Each case includes witness statements, evidence results and overviews of the case. Similar cases and outcomes are also included. 

The case was call "Death by DUI?," with Charles being charged with the death of another character in a possible drunk driving case. The case had seven witnesses including the defendant Charles, witnesses for the prosecution and the defense and three expert witnesses, two attorney teams and a judge.

Once the trial case is received from the event organization, "the attorneys have to develop a case whether they are on the prosecution or the defense  they have to be ready for either side at any time. One team doesn't just do prosecution, they do prosecution and defense," said Van Horn who was an attorney in her freshman year and then was elected as a judge. 

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