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Mock Trials Decided by Real Judges: Minnesota judges play key role in successful high school mock trial season

Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Minnesota high school mock trial season ended last weekend with a trial in the ceremonial courtroom of the Stearns County Courthouse – the courtroom made famous for its use in the 1992 film, “The Mighty Ducks.” Students from Lakeville South High School prevailed over the mock trial team from Maple River High School (Mapleton, MN) in the final round of the 2017 Mock Trial State Tournament held March 3 and 4 in St. Cloud.
More than 80 high schools across Minnesota have teams that participate in mock trial, a competitive, law-related education program that introduces students to the American legal system and provides a challenging opportunity for personal growth and achievement. Mock trial is a simulated trial court experience, in which students prepare and try a case playing both the attorney and witness roles. Teams are judged based on their knowledge and understanding of the fictitious case, their poise and professionalism in the courtroom, their ability to think on their feet, and their adherence to court rules and procedure.
Minnesota’s high school mock trial program is operated by the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA).
Critical to the success of the mock trial program is the participation of real attorneys and judicial officers, who volunteer their time to serve as judges for the mock trial program. According to the MSBA, 700 attorneys and judges are needed during the three months of mock trial competitions. In addition, Minnesota judges open their courtrooms for use by the program, allowing students to gain the valuable of experience of presenting their cases in real court facilities.
During the 2017 season, 27 Minnesota judicial officers presided over mock trials. Tenth Judicial District Judge James E. Dehn, chambered in Isanti County, presided over the final round of the state tournament in St. Cloud. Judge Dehn is the longest-active judge in Minnesota mock trial. 
Scoring judges in the final round included Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug and Fourth Judicial District Judge Peter Cahill of Hennepin County. Judge Cahill chairs MSBA’s Mock Trial Advisory Committee, and Justice Lillehaug is chair of its Rules Subcommittee. First Judicial District Judge Mark Vandelist of Le Sueur County, another committee member, judged at the state tournament and spoke at the awards luncheon. 
Other officers of the Judicial Branch who presided over mock trials at regional tournaments include:
Senior Judge Diane Alshouse, Ramsey County
Judge Michael Baxter, Dakota County
Judge Eric Braaten, Carver County
Judge Steven Cahill, Clay County
Judge Leonardo Castro, Ramsey County
Judge Larry Collins, Waseca County
Judge Robert Docherty, Brown County
Judge Jennifer Frisch, Ramsey County
Judge Thomas Gilligan, Ramsey County
Judge Stephen Halsey, Wright County
Judge Lisa Janzen, Hennepin County
Judge Mark Kappelhoff, Hennepin County
Judge Fred Karasov, Hennepin County
Judge William Koch, Hennepin County
Judge Gail Kulick, Mille Lacs County
Judge Richard Kyle, Ramsey County
Referee Mark Labine
Senior Judge John McShane, Hennepin County
Judge James Moore, Hennepin County
Judge Christian Sande, Hennepin County
Judge Kevin Siefken, Mower County
Judge Mary Vasaly, Hennepin County
Judge Michael Wentzel, Carver County
“I’ve seen first-hand how the MSBA’s mock trial program helps students think and communicate clearly,” said Justice Lillehaug. “On behalf of the Minnesota Supreme Court, I want to congratulate all the students and teachers that participated this season, and thank the MSBA and the attorneys and judges who volunteered their time and energy to educate students about their justice system.”