Franklin's Mock Trial team heads to state competition (again)

Franklin's Mock Trial team heads to state competition (again)
Posted on 03/19/2015
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It’s one of those jewels of a program found throughout Seattle Public Schools: Ever since High School Mock Trial Competitions began two decades ago, Franklin High School has been there, earning top rankings against private powerhouses like Seattle Prep, University Prep and Seattle Academy.

In 2000, Franklin went all the way to the top, taking first place in the National Competition – the first Washington team to take the national title.

Franklin’s Mock Trial tradition continues on March 27-29 when the team heads to the State Championships in Olympia, hosted by the Washington YMCA. In the King County competition, Franklin took an excruciatingly close second place to their perennial – but friendly – rivals at Seattle Prep. Franklin’s JV team took third.

Franklin teacher and Mock Trial coach Don Eaton recruits students to the team based on recommendations from other teachers and current team members. He also gets students and parents who seek him out after learning about Franklin’s storied team. Students have to try out for a spot.

A year and a half ago, Rachel Kaftan, a sophomore, tried out after a friend from Lake Washington Girls Middle School, suggested she give it a try. “I’m a performer, so I love public speaking,” Kaftan said. “And it involves a lot of improv, which I love.”

Kaftan was named “Outstanding Attorney” in the final round of the King County competition. Teammate Callie Craig was named “Outstanding Witness.

Teams prepared for the competition using a 72-page case document prepared by King County Superior Court Judge William Downing. As in years past, the case drew from hot issues of the day, in this instance those raised by the Edward Snowden saga.

“Jurors” had to decide whether an outside computer tech working on contract with the local police department is a “traitorous leaker” or a “heroic whistleblower” for sharing troubling documents from a sealed search warrant with a journalist friend. Teams were provided with witness statements, trial exhibits, relevant police policies and municipal law, jury instructions and pretrial motions. They built their cases for the plaintiff and for the defense from there.

“I like critically thinking about the cases,” said Rebekah Nachman, a junior at Franklin. “It gives us the opportunity to work things out on our own.

Mock Trial is part of Franklin’s Law and Society class but is cross-listed as a Career and Technical Education course so that students can receive class credits for being a part of the team multiple years. On top of class time, the Mock Trial team spends four to six hours every Friday night at the King County Courthouse, working on their cases and practicing their examinations and cross-examinations.

Three attorney raters scored the trial from the jury box, while Judge Downing presided over the trial. From the moment the trial begins until the end, all parties are required to proceed as if this was a real trial in King County Superior Court. Students had to learn the Federal Rules of Evidence and made (and answered) objections. Attorneys called witnesses, who are bound by the contents of their sworn affidavits.

Eaton, the team’s coach, has had a few students actually move on to law school, but he said the real benefit of the program is "seeing students learn to construct good arguments themselves and – better yet – identify poorly thought through logical claims. Those skills are immensely useful, whatever path students pursue in after high school."

Kaftan, for example, never really thought about studying law, but participating in Mock Trial has prompted her to take a second look: “My first calling is theater and being an actress,” Kaftan said. “But being a lawyer is a good back-up plan for me.”

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