Real judges hear students present arguments at mock trial program

The Northside High mock trial team members take on the roles of attorney, defendant, witness when presenting fictitious cases in competition, but Thursday afternoon the team didn’t need anyone to stand in to play judge.

The team practiced the civil case it will perform for an upcoming state competition to a special audience of not one — but eight district and appellate court judges.

The judges are in Lafayette for the annual Louisiana Judicial Council/National Bar Association continuing legal education seminar, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday.

A school visit is part of the council’s community outreach during its annual seminar to expose students to the law profession, said 4th Circuit Court of Appeal Judge Edwin Lombard. Lombard is the council’s president.

“We want to encourage them to stay in school and take advantage of their education,” Lombard said. “It seems this program is already established and doing well. We hope we can help sharpen their skills because they’re going up against some competition later this month.”

The school is home to the district’s legal studies academy and has its own mock courtroom.

On Thursday, 15th Judicial District Court Judge Edward Rubin presided over students fake civil case — a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a single mother against her son’s track coach and his high school over her son’s fatal steroid overdose.

Seven district and appellate court judges from across the state played jurors from their seats in the jury box.

Plaintiff attorney Reginold Boudreaux turned on the drama for the jurors as he laid out his case on behalf of “a teary-eyed and heartbroken mother” in need of justice.

At one point, Boudreaux asked the grieving mother how she felt about losing her son, sending the defendant’s attorney, played by student Isiah Chavis to his feet to object to the line of questioning.

“Overruled,” Rubin said, pointing his finger at Chavis.

The students presented an abbreviated performance for the judges’ visit, so the visitors didn’t want to issue a verdict.

“This is where the appeals court comes in,” joked Lombard. “We didn’t get to see the whole thing, but both sides were very convincing.”

Rubin complimented the students for their work.

“I’m proud this is in my neck of the woods,” he said of the mock trial program.

While there was no verdict, the judges did offer advice.

“You had your witness on the stand and you stood between your witness and the jury. You never want to stand between your witness and the jury,” advised Louisiana Second Court of Appeal Judge James Stewart.

The students compete March 29 in Shreveport in the state tournament, said Liz Tullier, the team’s coach and director of Northside’s legal studies academy.

The team also receives coaching support from local attorneys and has competed in an invitational international mock trial competition in New York and last fall was invited to the Harvard University Mock Trial High School training seminar.

“We learned from one of the best mock trial teams in the country,” said Deontré Narcisse, 17, a senior. “We had workshops about how to be a better witness and attorney like showing emotion on the stand and make whatever you say more believable.”

Boudreaux said the Harvard seminar helped grow his confidence in his mock trial performance.

“They taught us to be strong with every word that comes out of your mouth,” said Boudreaux, 16, a sophomore.

In the case they’ll present at state competition, both students take on several roles, and share the role of the accused coach, but don’t hold the same view on who’s at fault in the fake case.

Narcisse is more sympathetic toward the coach, while Boudreaux sided with the mother. The two defended their views in the hallway outside the mock courtroom before the judges’ arrival. Their joy in the debate was apparent.

“It’s intense,” Boudreaux said with a smile.