PTHS mock trial team heads to state competition

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The Port Townsend High School mock trial team is heading to state again this month, after making it into the top 10 state rankings for the past three years.

This year’s case, titled “Flyspecking,” pits the residents of fictional Moonlight Estates subdivision against the owners of a feedlot the residents say is blighting their homes. Among their complaints: Noxious odors, ugly piles of manure, a plague of flies, truck noise, stream pollution and a bellowing bull named “Boscoe.” The ranchers argue their feedlot is an approved and appropriate use of their land.

Student participants play all the key roles, from witnesses to attorneys, in trying the case.

PTHS English teacher Chris Pierson has been supervising Port Townsend’s litigators for 16 years, and he’s looking forward to joining them as they head to the mock trial state championships in Olympia March 22-24.

“I couldn’t be more proud of these kids, especially since we graduated six seniors from the team last year, so this was a rebuilding year for the team,” Pierson said.

Pierson credited the team’s consistently “overachieving” performance over the past few years to its work ethic and the support it has received from those members of the school district, the county government and the community who have served as judges and helped out in other ways.

Sarah Lee has argued as a mock trial attorney for four years, and while she’s joined by fellow PTHS seniors Nicky Massie and Callay Boire, their 16-member team is otherwise “very young,” Pierson said.

Lee credits mock trial with teaching her more about the law, but she also reported gaining confidence. “It’s a fun challenge,” Lee said. “Whether it’s writing up remarks, memorizing facts or speaking in public, you learn new things every year. It’s important to educate yourself in legal issues, so you can have more informed opinions.”

While mock trials require a significant amount of research, Pierson credited his students with managing not to be overly rehearsed.

“They’re not scripted drones,” Pierson said. “They do their own work and can think on their feet. They’re able to remain true to themselves, and representative of Port Townsend as a whole.”

As an English teacher, Pierson appreciates that mock trial not only complements the Port Townsend School District’s stated commitment to place-based education, but also builds participants’ facility with language.

“It’s a field where logic, language and the law still rule,” Pierson said.

PTHS argued a total of eight trials at the mock trial district competition in Port Orchard Feb. 22 and 23, putting in three rounds against Kings High School, two rounds against University Prep, one round against Seattle Academy, and one “civil war” round against themselves.

Student attorneys Lilly Montgomery and Finn O’Donnell won individual awards, while Max Stewart, Orion Pendely and Liam Stengel won best witness awards.

Pierson pointed to the civic engagement and enlightenment of students such as Lee as evidence of how mock trial can benefit the community as a whole.

“Mock trial doesn’t just produce future attorneys,” Pierson said. “It also helps make young people better citizens in any profession.”

Pierson extended his thanks to former and current Jefferson County judges Jill Landes, Keith Harper and Mindy Walker for their support of mock trial over the years.

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