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Lexington Mock Trial Team Impresses Judges in Competition

By Mark Caudill/Mansfield News Journal

Phil Naumoff was on the recruiting trail Friday during Ohio's 41st annual mock trial competition.

"If any of you are thinking of going to law school, hurry up. We need attorneys," Naumoff told the high school participants from Lexington and Danville.

Naumoff, the Richland County Common Pleas Court judge, presided over some of the competition, which went on in courtrooms both in the county courthouse and the municipal building.

More than 2,000 Ohio high school students took part in courtrooms around the state in the competition, which is put on by the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education. They were competing for the chance to advance to regional competition Feb. 16.

This year's case examines the history and application of the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, it looks at excessive fines related to property forfeiture resulting from a crime.


Case involved seizure of Camaro from criminal

The defense team asserted that the state had seized more property and funds than Espinosa owed and would violate her Eighth Amendment right against excessive fines by taking the Camaro.

Joining Naumoff were scoring judges Mackenzie Mayer and Nick Atterholt. Lexington's squad impressed the judges, who selected Grant Mentzer as the outstanding attorney and Mason Gunnoe as the outstanding witness in the first trial of the day.

Other members of the team were attorney Addison Vanderbilt and witness Lydia Schroeder.

"I was very, very proud of their performances," adviser Michelle Olecki said. "They put in so many hours. I think that showed."

She said she was especially proud of Gunnoe, who is taking part in mock trial for the first time as a senior.

"He just worked collaboratively with all of his classmates," Olecki said.

She added Gunnoe took on a leadership role, which is usually handled by attorneys.


Lexington senior selected as 'outstanding witness'

Gunnoe called his outstanding witness award an honor.

"I worked hard for it," he said. "I love arguing certain points that I know are true. It kind of goes along with what I want to do later."

Gunnoe plans to study chemistry in college but said that background could qualify him as an expert witness in trials.

Like Gunnoe, Mentzer plans to study chemistry or biochemistry in college.

"I don't really know what I want to do with my life," he said, adding law school could be a possibility.

Mentzer said he "kind of got roped" into mock trial last year because the team needed more people. He enjoyed it so much that he came back.


Another Lexington senior moved up to attorney

Last year he was a witness, but Olecki said Mentzer did so well she made him an attorney this year.

Olecki has been the teacher-adviser for Lexington's mock trial team for the past two years. She was assisted by legal adviser Kirsten Pscholka-Gartner.

"They couldn't find anyone to take it on, so the students approached me," Olecki said of her previous role.

She came back this year after the juniors made their own appeal.

Olecki said mock trial competition comes down to how well each side presents its argument.

"Cases are always equally distributed in terms of the facts," she said. "It's how well the attorneys pull out those facts and how convincing the witnesses are."

Memorization is a big part of it, but not the only part.

"It's not like learning a play," Olecki said. "We don't want it to be too scripted because you have to react. There's too many moving parts."

She credited Mentzer for rewriting his opening statement after a pretrial hearing.


Scoring judges praised both Lexington, Danville teams

The judges were impressed with everyone on the Lexington and Danville teams.

"Grant, your opening was fantastic," Atterholt said.

He also addressed Vanderbilt, the other attorney for Lexington.

"Addison, you practice like I practice," Atterholt said. "Your face shows every emotion all the time."

Mayer said she had only positive things to say about the participants.

"I wrote a ton of notes. You were all super-prepared," Mayer said.

She praised Lexington's attorneys.

"When you had your witnesses on cross, you didn't back down at all," Mayer said.

Lexington's other team members were scheduled to put on the case Friday afternoon. Those students were Ellie Hicks, Wesley Holtz, Jenna Lehnhart, Natalie Badnell, Vynce Hopkins and Anna Moore.


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