President's Page by Brad Hall
In the early 1990s, I was a relatively young associate at what was then Grant, Bernard, Lyons & Gaddis, toiling away in my office when Dan Bernard and Richard Lyons stopped by for a chat. Someone at the St. Vrain Valley School District had requested they find an attorney at the firm willing to volunteer as the coach for a high school mock trial team at Skyline High School in Longmont. The teacher of an American History course was starting the team as a class project and needed help. I bet you can guess who wound up being that volunteer coach. It was not a requirement, I was told, but it would sure be a good opportunity to volunteer in the community. So began a 5-year stint as the coach of the Skyline Falcons mock trial team.
Each year began anew with a different class of students trying to comprehend the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant. Much like me they also struggled mightily with hearsay and the exceptions. Each year Skyline was grouped with other Northern Colorado teams in the Brighton District. With a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and a few tears of frustration shed by both the students and the coach, the team managed to qualify for the state tournament four times. Each state tournament resulted in the Falcons getting absolutely demolished by the likes of Kent, Regis and other schools fielding three or four teams each year. In 16 state rounds over four years, Skyline won a single round near the bottom of the loser’s bracket. In spite of the dismal results at the state tournament, each and every student enjoyed the experience and were upset they would not to be able to come back the following year.
After five years, the history instructor, who served as the program sponsor, moved on to a different school outside the district, and without her enthusiasm the program folded. It does take a village to run a high school mock trial team. No other schools in Longmont were fielding teams at the time, so I retired from coaching. For several years, Mary no longer had to spend her birthday weekends alone while I was at the state tournament with a bunch of teenagers. (See last month’s President’s page.)
Five years ago, I was sitting in my office when one of my partners came in for a chat. His oldest son wanted to start a mock trial team at Niwot High School, which his wife had agreed to coach, but needed some help. I agreed, but went into a much different situation than my previous experience with Skyline. The Niwot team is run as an extracurricular activity that conducts tryouts, meets on its own time, and has had students return year after year, many for their entire high school career. On the two occasions that the team qualified for the state tournament it finished sixth. Last year the other school from Boulder County, Fairview High School from Boulder, won the state tournament and advanced to the national tournament. It is a tough region to say the least.
The 2019 Boulder County tournament took place on February 7-9 pitting nine teams from the county against each other. Boulder High and Fairview High prevailed and will be advancing to the state tournament on March 8-9 in Golden. The teams included a group of freshmen young women who doggedly persevered through the competition without an attorney coach. Justice High School, which enrolls at-risk youth, once again fielded a competitive team.
Part of the mission of the Boulder County Bar Association is to promote the education of the public in matters relating to the law. The mock trial program brings together students, teachers, lawyers, judges and community leaders to teach high school students critical thinking skills, speaking and writing skills, and an appreciation of our judicial system. Watching these students perform is truly an experience that everyone should make a little time for at least once. I cannot think of a better way to educate the public than having our leaders of tomorrow experience the legal system first hand.
At the end of the competition, Chief Judge Bakke spoke to the students about how the judicial system protects the rights that are guaranteed all citizens and why it is so important to protect the system. You could have heard a pin drop during her talk.
A competition like this does not run itself. Special thanks go out to the members of the bench who gave their personal time during evenings and weekends to preside over the trials. Thanks to all the lawyers, clerks, and other community members who served as scoring judges and provided insight to the students on their performances. Thanks to the school teacher sponsors for each team who have to herd these teenagers for months. Thanks to the attorney coaches who give of their time to get the student/lawyers ready for the competition. Thanks to Laura and Kyle from the bar for putting the competition together. And finally, thanks to the parents who encourage their children and entrust them to these volunteers for a few months each year.
And what would a President’s page be without at least one story? During my time coaching the Skyline team, a young man joined from outside the class when we were short on team members. This young man had this shock of brilliant red hair and wore pressed khakis and shirts to school every day. He was incredibly articulate and was prepared for practice every day. He made for a fabulous expert witness as a detective in a criminal case problem. He had the “it” factor that some kids just have in this competition. Several months after the competition, the teacher sponsor and I were manning a table for the mock trial competition at a district-wide school activities fair. During a break, I asked the sponsor how this student was doing. It turns out that this young man had been living with his grandparents because of an abusive situation at home. His pressed khakis and shirts were a way in which he experienced a degree of normalcy on a daily basis. And, just prior to asking to join the mock trial team, he was on the verge of dropping out of school. He went on to graduate and attend college. I hope he is doing well.