ILNews

Northern Indiana judges help create state's mock trial tradition

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

ADVERTISEMENT