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Teaching students civics lessons

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Helping educate Indiana high school students about the importance of being active and involved citizens takes work from teachers, parents and other members of the community. Thanks to the interest and time investment from members of Indiana’s legal community, high school students have access to real-life civics lessons from professionals who interact daily with various branches of government. Two programs that assist in furthering high school students’ understanding of government and the legal process are yVote! and Indiana Mock Trial.

Students involved in Indiana Mock Trial compete in groups of six to eight to conduct a constructed trial. Students act as both the lawyers and the witnesses in a case and are judged by volunteer panels that may be composed of attorneys, judges and third-year law students with mock trial experience. High school students in Indiana compete in events in one of four regions, and 20 teams advance to the state mock trial competition, held in Indianapolis.

The 2012 State Competition was held March 10-11. Team Whüp Swag from John Adams High School in South Bend finished first and will represent Indiana at the National Mock Trial Competition May 3-6, 2012, in Albuquerque, N.M. Caroline Corcoran, a student from Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis, was awarded “most effective witness,” and Addison Kane, a student from South Bend’s Trinity School at Greenlawn, won honors for “most effective attorney.”
 

civics-1col.jpg Participants in the Indiana Mock Trial Competition confer at the state finals March 9-10. (Photo/ Kate Johnson)

Cases for the competition are written by Indiana Mock Trial board of directors member Susan Roberts. A full-time attorney in Lafayette, Roberts estimates she spends about a month each year to compose the cases during her free time. She enjoys channeling her creative side, and she is “very passionate” about the mock trial program.

“I think it’s just a terrific civics education program for students in Indiana,” Roberts said.

Indiana high school mock trial teams have been very successful in the national mock trial competition, with Indiana teams consistently placing in the top 10 at the national contest. Next May, Indianapolis will host the 2013 National Mock Trial Championship.

“We’re looking forward to it, and we’re very excited about hosting,” Roberts said.

Ann Marie Waldron, an Indianapolis-based attorney and current member of the Indiana Mock Trial board of directors, is the host director of the committee for the national competition. Waldron enjoys seeing the students who participate learn public speaking skills, poise and self-confidence.

“It’s amazing to watch the transformation in students from nervous freshmen,” who are terrified to make an objection, to seniors “who own the courtroom,” she said.

Although mock trial participation may stem from interest in law, Waldron said many students are interested in mock trial for the debating or the acting. Waldron notes that the mock trial program “sneaks in little lessons” for the students.

“We teach them about civics, government and the trial process when they’re not looking,” she said.

The success of the Indiana’s mock trial teams is a combination of the hard work the student teams put into the case and the expertise of their attorney-coaches.

“One of the most important factors is that the teams benefit from having very talented attorneys work with them to teach them both the technical aspects of lawyering, such as the rules of evidence, as well as the tactical aspects of lawyering, such as when and how to make an objection or not to make an objection,” Waldron said. In turn, the attorneys who work with the students “feel as though they’re giving back to the community.”

Get out the vote

yVote! is another civics program geared toward Indiana high school students. Started in 2008 in part as a response to teacher requests for more information due to excitement surrounding the 2008 presidential election, the yVote! program is now in its eighth semester.
 

civics-beth-white05-15col.jpg Marion County Clerk Beth White and staff member Chris Hampton, left, demonstrate to Bishop Chatard student Myles Maline-Wright the proper way to insert a completed ballot into the voting machine. White presented the yVote! program at Bishop Chatard High School March 20. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Through yVote!, Marion County Clerk Beth White’s office is able to provide voter education to high school students. The program encourages students to vote by helping them understand the voting process and, if students are eligible, registering them to vote. Since its launch, yVote! has visited 23 different schools and registered more than 2,100 high school students to vote.

White and her staff are able to tailor the yVote! curriculum to a school’s specific needs and requests. According to Angie Nussmeyer, White’s media assistant, the program can range from teaching all-day civics classes at a school to just assisting eligible students to register to vote during free time. During the more extensive curriculum, mock ballots and actual voting equipment are brought to schools for students to practice using. When helping students determine if they are eligible to register to vote, White and her staff inform students who are 17 years old that they are eligible to register and to vote in the primary if they will be 18 years old by the date of the general election. If voting during the primary, eligible 17-year-olds use a specially printed ballot.

When visiting schools, White said, “What I hear from students is, ‘I’m not going to vote, I don’t know how that works.’” By providing basic education about voting concepts such as Indiana’s voter ID law, what a precinct is, and who is eligible to vote, White said it takes away the mystery. Many parents and teachers have approached White and thanked her for registering students to vote.

“We have to focus on getting the word out for young people to vote,” White said.

After learning the results of the 2011 Civics Health Index, White feels even more strongly about the need to further engage Indiana high school students. The index measures several areas of community engagement, such as volunteering, voting and religious participation. According to the index, Indiana ranks 48th in the nation in voter turnout and 43rd in the nation in eligible voters registered. Additionally, across the nation, 18- to 25-year-olds are the demographic who vote the least.

“As a state, we’ve got some work to do, and we can’t start too young. I just feel that focusing on registering people to vote and then educating them on the process is key,” White said.•

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Lawyers interested in learning more about becoming an adult volunteer or judge in the 2013 National Mock Trial Competition in Indianapolis are asked to contact Ann Marie Waldron at awaldron@rwylaw.com.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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