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Northern Indiana judges help create state's mock trial tradition

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Standing between two judges who are offering different opinions on how to proceed is not a place many attorneys would want to find themselves.

However, a group of students at Adams High School in South Bend often found themselves with two opposing pieces of advice from the jurists. Two sets of instructions, two judges and no opportunity to ask for a recess.

mock-2-15col.jpg Judge Robert Miller, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, spends Sunday nights mentoring his daughter’s mock trial team from Adams High School in South Bend. The students are (from front to back): Edward Alexander, Becca Neal, Isabel Bradley, and Maurice Hoban. (Photo submitted)

This was just part of the routine for the mock trial teams coached by Judge Robert L. Miller Jr., seated on the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Indiana, and his wife, St. Joseph Superior Judge Jane Miller.

The Millers have become advocates and eloquent spokespeople for the Indiana Mock Trial program. They coached teams from Adams High School during the late-1990s to the mid-2000s. Their hours of teaching students how to litigate a case culminated in 2003 when their students won third place in the national championship, which at that time was the highest a Hoosier team had ever placed on the national stage.

Moreover, the high standards they set for their students rippled across Northern Indiana as other teams in the region worked harder to compete against Adams High School. Today, Indiana has a strong mock trial program, and its students regularly appear among the top 10 winners in the national competition.

“They did a tremendous job of taking it to the next level, of helping Indiana get to the next level,” Scott Keller of Anderson Agostino & Keller P.C. in South Bend and attorney/coach representative on the Indiana Mock Trial board of directors, said about the Millers.

Although the Millers have stepped back from coaching, the Indiana program will be in the spotlight come May when the state hosts the National High School Mock Trial Championship for the first time. High school students, attorneys and judges from across the country will descend on Indianapolis for three days to demonstrate their knowledge of the legal system.

Students portraying lawyers and witnesses will go into Marion County courtrooms and present their side of the case to the judge. They will make opening and closing statements, present exhibits, examine and cross-examine witnesses, make objections and offer rebuttals just like any licensed practicing attorney would do.

The championship round will be held in federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker’s courtroom in the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse.

“It’s a huge deal. We’re honored to host the national competition,” said Susan Roberts, president and board member of the Indiana Mock Trial program. “I think we’re going to have a great competition.”

Click to learn more about volunteering as a judge for the state and national competitions.

Think like a lawyer

Indiana regional competitions will be held in February followed by the state finals in March. Coaches, who are typically teachers, attorneys or judges, begin working with their students at the start of the fall semester. They teach the rules of litigation as well as the skills of being a lawyer or good witness.

Practice is paramount. What may start out in September as a couple of hours after school grows into several hours a week as the competition gets closer and then blossoms into entire Saturdays spent going over and over the case.

The Millers gave up their Sunday evenings. During the school year, they would invite their team to their home, order pizza and work on the fundamentals.

“Once you get going with it and see the students’ enthusiasm, you just keep going,” Robert Miller said. “There’s really no good way to explain it.”

Nothing in the competition is made easier for the high school students. They are expected to adhere to the same rules and procedures as any attorney who has been through law school. They have to follow the rules of evidence; ask short, concise questions of the witnesses; know the case; and be prepared for anything.

Attorneys who have coached and judged the competition praise the mock trial program as giving the students skills they can use wherever they go and in whatever they do. Critical thinking, public speaking and poise are among the valuable things the students learn and hone.

Jane Miller recalled a science teacher who initially disdained the mock trial program because it took his students away from working on their science projects. However, when he eventually saw these students better presenting their science experiments because of the skills they had acquired in mock trial, he became a fan of the program.

“These kids,” she said, “I can’t overstate how wonderful these kids are.”

The Millers’ daughter Amanda was on their mock trial team her entire high school career and was a member of the 2003 third-place finishers. She always played a witness because she did not want to follow too closely in her parents’ footsteps.

“My parents always gave 100 percent of themselves to their kids while they worked with them,” she said. “They personally believed in the program, that it has a real huge impact on the kids for the rest of their lives.”

And they became notorious for offering different opinions. Usually Robert Miller, who spent the better part of his career on the bench, would tell a student what to do only to be contradicted by Jane Miller who would be prone to exclaim, “Who told you to do that?”

Poor kids, Amanda Miller remembered. Seventeen years old and they didn’t know whose advice to follow.

Still in that moment of diverging paths, Robert Miller taught a fundamental principle of not only law but also of life. There are not always right and wrong answers. In the gray areas, the students would have to sort among all the possible choices and make the decision they think best.

Thrill of the courtroom

The Millers are one example of the volunteers who devote countless hours to the mock trial program. While it may be surprising that attorneys and judges who spend their day practicing law would want to spend their leisure time doing more of the same, the lawyers say the main attraction is the students.

“Some of these students, they just wow you,” said Roberts, retired partner at Stuart & Branigin LLP in Lafayette. One student may use a catchy phrase, and off the cuff their opponent will twist and turn that phrase to support their case.

Mike Lewinski, partner at Ice Miller LLP and mock trial coach at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, enjoys watching the students develop an understanding that perspectives can differ and few things are black and white.

As he teaches his team, he learns as well, he said.

For Robert Miller, the attraction is the enthusiasm the students display. Once in practice, most lawyers are focused on the verdict, wanting to win every case, and they forget the thrill. But in mock trial, just like law school, the focus is on the excitement of getting into the courtroom.

Although the Millers no longer have a team, they stay attached to the program by helping Amanda’s team. As they did when they were coaching, the two judges have the students to their home Sunday nights, provide a meal, and teach them to think and act like lawyers.

“If you’re ever concerned about the future of our courts, go watch these kids and you won’t be concerned anymore,” Jane Miller said. “These are the brightest young people out there.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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