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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. This guy sounds like the classic molester/manipulator.

  2. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  3. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  4. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  5. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

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