Young 'Lawyers' State Their Case; Nassau: Teens' Skills Overrule Their Inexperience

Article excerpt

Byline: Alison Trinidad, Nassau Neighbors staff writer

Sixteen Nassau County Teen Court volunteers nearly clinched the title in a four-county mock trial competition in the bustling Duval County Courthouse Friday.

Two participants even picked up awards for their respective performances as prosecuting attorney and witness.

Not too shabby for a first try.

"Everybody was coming up to our boys and girls and was just blown away," Teen Court Coordinator Charles Griffin said.

It was the first such competition for Nassau County Teen Court, a volunteer youth program that allows first-time juvenile offenders to have their sentences decided by a jury of their peers.

With notes, briefs and weeks of review under their belts, the teens spent the day as prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses embroiled in a fictitious breaking-and-entering court case. They beat out Volusia and Flagler counties in preliminary rounds and faced off against Clay County. Clay County won by half a point.

Megan Hoobler, a veteran Teen Court volunteer and sophomore at Hilliard Middle-Senior High School, received the Best Attorney prize. Hoobler, who has hopes to pursue law as a career, was the only attorney who argued her case without notes, Griffin said.

Though a novice of Teen Court, Fernandina Beach High student Megan Fortier, a senior, was recognized as the best witness.

"It was a great day, great for Nassau County," Griffin said.

Traditionally, Teen Court volunteers and past defendants fulfilling sentences report for jury duty twice a month. Teenagers also volunteer as court clerks, bailiffs and prosecuting and defense attorneys. The teens watch real cases of teenagers who have already admitted violating a law. At the end of the hearing, the jury reaches a decision on the sentence the defendant should receive.

A mock trial competition, however, involves participants in a complete case -- albeit fictitious -- and not just a five-minute sentencing hearing, Griffin said.

"This gives them [the students] the chance to really step into the attorney's shoes and present a full-blown case," Griffin said. "These kids have got dreams and ambitions to be attorneys or, at least, do some acting."

The other counties that participated all had competed in previous mock trial events. On the day of competition, county teams are split and matched against other prosecuting and defense teams. …