Three-Peat Earns Prep Trip to Nationals 1/22/19 01/21/19 11:45:10 PM
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From left are members of the Creighton Prep Mock Trial State Championship team: Mason Mandolfo, Nathaniel Reyes, Jaliya Nagahawatte, Creighton Prep Principal Jim Bopp, Chris Nubel, Joe Oberlies, Dominic Mendlik and Matthew Mandolfo. (Courtesy photo)
2018-2019 Judge Lyle Strom High School Mock Trial Championship
Three-Peat Earns Prep Trip to Nationals
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
The criminal case – The State of Nebraska vs. Ricky/Ricki Glossner – involved the sale of fentanyl pills by a high school student to an undercover police officer. The question? Did the defendant illegally distribute the drug? And did the defendant attempt to influence his best friend to lie for him?
That was the case that high school students from across Nebraska wrestled with as they participated in the 2018-2019 Judge Lyle Strom High School Mock Trial Championship in Omaha on December 3-4.
The final round was a rematch of the first round with Creighton Prep and Gering High School going head to head. With close scores, Prep’s undefeated team prevailed and won the state title, earning them a trip to the national competition to face 45 other teams in May.
Led by Fraser Stryker attorneys Mark Laughlin and Patrick Cooper and Prep teacher-coach James Justice, the Prep squad took state for the third year in a row. They follow in the footsteps of the powerhouse Omaha teams of Skutt Catholic and Duchesne Academy, who earned back-to-back titles in past years.
Laughlin said this year’s team, consisting mostly of underclassmen, went undefeated in both the Omaha regional and state competition. “They beat Gering in the first round, then again in the finals. That has never happened before,” he said.
Writing advisors (back row, from left): Nebraska Court of Appeals Judge Francie Riedmann, Senior Producer of NET News Bill Kelly and Rose Ann Shannon, retired News Director KETV, mentored student reporters (front from left): Madeline Mollner of Skutt Catholic, Ethan Graff of McCook and winner Taegan Jacobs of Bellevue West. (NSBF photo)
Twelve teams competed for the state title. Besides Gering and Prep, the schools that advanced to state were Lexington, McCook, Valentine, Grand Island Northwest, South Sioux City, Columbus Scotus, Bellevue West, Fillmore Central, York and Skutt Catholic.
Laughlin noted that the wins were a combination of hard work and a little luck.
“They worked very hard, practicing every Sunday from August to December,” he said. “Plus, we had a little luck. Preparation is the key. They need to think on their feet; everyone has to.”
The team even boasted a pair of identical twins (Mason and Matthew Mandolfo). “It took me a while to tell them apart!” Laughlin said.
While the team had almost an entire semester to prepare for state competition, they will not receive their case packet for finals until April, with competition beginning May 16 at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.
Mark Laughlin’s father, attorney Gerald Laughlin of Baird Holm, who co-coaches Duchesne Academy’s Mock Trial team with Hon. Stephanie Martinez, will assist Prep in preparing for the nationals.
Mock Trial Past and Future
The Judge Lyle Strom High School Mock Trial Program is administered and funded by the Nebraska State Bar Foundation (NSBF) and supported by more than 350 volunteer lawyers each year.
Each year, a group of Nebraska attorneys researches and authors an original case. The 2018 Case Committee was led by the Hon. Karen Flowers, retired (Lincoln), who served as chair, and Stephanie Hupp (Lincoln), who served as vice chair. Members included Stan Beeder (Lincoln), Kristi Egger-Brown (Lincoln), Michael Gooch (Omaha), Lory Pasold (Seward) and Hon. Christina Marroquin (Seward). U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Gerrard and Nebraska Court of Appeals Judge Riko Bishop also contributed their time and input to the case.
“The High School Mock Trial Program began with a handful of midwestern states that went nationwide
in the mid-’80s,” NSBF Executive Director Doris Huffman said. “Nebraska hosted one of the earliest regional high school mock trial competitions in 1985, and over 30 years later, we are going strong.
“We’ve expanded the program’s focus this year into the critical area of court media coverage with the Student Mock Trial News Reporter Contest.”
Nebraska’s first-in-the-nation Reporter Contest is the brainchild of Huffman and Nebraska Broadcasters Association Exec-utive Director Jim Timm. They developed the idea through their work together on Nebraska’s Bench Media Committee.
“I hope that other states will replicate this educational activity,” Huffman said.
The Reporter Contest invites teams that advance to the state championship to bring a student to write a story about the first-round trial. Those students have the opportunity to meet with a member of the judiciary and members of the media over lunch to visit about reporting on the trial and the legal system.
This year’s students were mentored by a pair of seasoned journalists: Rose Ann Shannon, now retired news director from KETV, and Bill Kelly, senior producer at NET News. Journalist-turned-judge, Francie Riedmann of the Nebraska Court of Appeals rounded out the panel of advisors.
Bellevue West student Taegan Jacobs was named the winner of Nebraska’s inaugural Reporters Contest.
Both the Mock Trial and Reporter competitions fall under the umbrella of the Nebraska State Bar Foundation’s Public Education Outreach Promoting the Law & Equity (PEOPLE) Committee.
“The contest is the perfect blend of the subcommittees of the PEOPLE Committee,” noted Supreme Court Public Information Officer Janet Bancroft.
“The Bench Media Committee and the Law-Related Education Committee generally work separately – this project truly draws from both subcommittees to educate these future producers or consumers of news reporting,” Bancroft said.
The goal is to teach high school students with interest in a media career about the legal system.
Since 1992, the Nebraska Council of School Attorneys has given $1,000 annually to the winning state champion. In 2018, the Council increased its gift to $2,000.
“The Council’s continued support is a testament of the positive impact Mock Trial has on young Nebraskans,” Huffman said