Glenwood Springs High School plays host to the Western Slope Regional Mock Trial Tournament for the first time in more than a decade, beginning today and continuing through Sunday at the Garfield County Courthouse.
But it took some recruiting by longtime mock trial coaches and supporters Victor Zerbi, Charlie Willman and others to even allow the Western Slope to have its own tournament this year.
That’s because the Colorado Bar Association, which sponsors the program, requires at least six participating teams for each region of the state to have its own tournament.
“Unfortunately, a number of the schools on the West Slope that had teams in the past have backed off, so we didn’t have enough,” Zerbi said.
That’s disappointing, he said, because mock trial provides a valuable, hands-on learning experience for students, whether they’re interested in going into law or not.
“It is such an incredible teaching program on a lot of levels,” said Zerbi, a former county court judge and current Glenwood Springs Municipal Court judge who has been involved with the program for more than 20 years.
“It doesn’t just have to do with law, it teaches speaking skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, just a whole host of things,” he said.
So, Zerbi approached Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, which had a team about 10 years ago, about resurrecting the team there.
As a result, the school will be represented at the regional tournament by a team of seven students, including three members from the private Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
“I’ve really been impressed with the interest of kids involved, and the effort they’ve put in to try to make themselves truly competitive,” Zerbi said. “It’s difficult to combine a team from two schools, but the kids have made a commitment and are putting in a strong effort.”
Likewise, Jonathon Pototsky, a Garfield County Court judge in Rifle, was successful in recruiting a seven-member team from Rifle High School, which also previously had a team. The Rifle team was profiled this week in the Rifle Citizen Telegram (www.postindependent.com/news/rifle/10187434-113/trial-team-mock-rifle).
The two new local teams will join three teams from perennial powerhouse Glenwood Springs High, which has had one of the most successful mock trial programs in Colorado since the 1990s, and has advanced to the state round and on to nationals on several occasions.
The sixth team participating in the three-day competition in Glenwood Springs is from R-5 High School in Grand Junction.
How it works
Mock trial challenges teams of high school students to prepare arguments for a legal case determined ahead of time each year by the Colorado Bar Association for the state’s regional and state competitions. Team members represent the various parties in the case, including the lawyers, the defendant and plaintiff, eyewitnesses and expert witnesses.
This year’s challenge is a civil liability case to determine whether teenager Cody Ortiz, who was allegedly texting while driving, should be liable for injuries to bicyclist Elliot Cook, who Ortiz hit at an intersection, but who also may have been distracted because he was talking on his cell phone at the time.
Willman, a Glenwood Springs attorney who coaches one of the GSHS teams, said there is often an education component to the cases that the bar association comes up with each year.
“Texting and driving, or any kind of distracted driving involving kids or adults, is a hot topic,” he said, adding that past cases have dealt with topics such as bullying, hazing and cyber-stalking.
Glenwood hosted the regional mock trial tournament for several years in the late 1990s, before it was moved to Grand Junction in order to better accommodate teams from across the Western Slope.
“They were unable to host it this year, so we agreed to host as long as there were enough teams,” Willman said.
Five rounds of head-to-head competition Friday, Saturday and Sunday will decide the regional champion and a coveted spot in the State Tournament, which will be held March 14-15 at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Golden.
Attorneys from Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction will score students on their presentation of facts, knowledge of the Rules of Evidence and their overall ability to present the case. Judges from the Ninth Judicial District will be presiding.
Matches are slated for 1 p.m. today; 9 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Saturday; and 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday in Courtroom B at the Garfield Courthouse. The public is invited to attend.
A total of 24 high school teams from across the state will be competing in the state tournament, with the winner advancing to the National High School Mock Trial Tournament in Madison, Wisconsin in May.
“It is such an incredible teaching program on a lot of levels. It doesn’t just have to do with law, it teaches speaking skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, just a whole host of things.”
Former county court judge and current Glenwood Springs Municipal Court judge