Students get their day in court

Students get their day in court
La Vernia High School speech and debate student Lauren Cheverton rises to the defense of her client as she plays her role in a Jan. 25 "Mock Trial Boot Camp" for students at the Wilson County Courthouse.

Things have changed since Floresville attorney Stephen Barrera graduated from La Vernia High School in 1994. He was one of several volunteers to practice with La Vernia’s mock trial team Jan. 25 in the Wilson County Courthouse.

“We did one [mock trial], but it was part of speech class and not with other schools,” Barrera said.

He was joined last Thursday by Chris Cavazos of the Atascosa County Attorney’s Office. Together they were hoping to pass on their expertise to the La Vernia team and provide an experience of what it’s going to be like when the students face other schools at their first competition Feb. 10 in San Antonio.

“I’m going after these kids,” Barrera joked beforehand.

Both attorneys saw this as a great way for the team to see what it’s actually like in the courtroom -- unlike the dramatic portrayals they might have seen on television.

“We’re going to try and give them as real an experience as possible,” Cavazos said.

The event was organized by the teams’ teacher, Belinda Garcia, and Assistant Wilson County Attorney Grace Barrera, with other staff in her office serving as jurors. County Judge Richard L. “Dickie” Jackson presided over the courtroom, as the students took turns prosecuting and defending their case against the two lawyers.

“It was intimidating being an attorney against them, because they were so good that no matter what side they played, I was automatically like, ‘Ok. You’re right,’” said La Vernia senior Delaney Malm, the only veteran of last year’s mock trial team.

Looking back on the experience, she and her team members said the attorneys were very helpful and nice, and often attempted to draw out better arguments from them during the proceedings. It wasn’t just the students serving as attorneys who felt the heat, however.

“When they’re doing their cross examination on you, you just felt guilty,” laughed junior Lauren Cheverton, who served as a witness, as well as an attorney.

The whole team was unanimous in saying that the experience was extremely useful. Team members came away feeling that, if they can go up against real attorneys, they can certainly go up against other students.

Several members of the team are interested in going into fields that directly or indirectly involve law. Depending on how they do at the competition this February, there could be other benefits, as well.

“Personally I think their biggest benefit is not only the exposure to the field, but they do get grants and scholarships if we win,” said Garcia, who brings six years of law-enforcement experience as a La Vernia peace officer to her first year teaching the group.

This is also the first year a “Mock Trial Boot Camp” with real attorneys has been available in the area. Other law organizations, such as the Dallas Bar Association, take great pride in how well their local teams do, Stephen Barrera said, and have their own attorneys contribute their expertise.

“Maybe we can offer this every year to any local schools that want to compete in State competitions,” Grace Barrera said.

The experience could indeed prove extremely useful in and out of the courtroom for students. Delaney remembered not being particularly good at public speaking before starting mock trial last year, but, after competing in a few tournaments, her skills improved dramatically.

“It makes you more confident,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen in this competition, but I can still do it.”