Austin White hesitantly rose from his seat to object the testimony provided by forensic pathologist Samantha Holloway, saying she was not an expert on the subject.
The Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne turned to prosecutor Jimmy Cummins and asked if he would like to respond.
Cummins responded with a sheepish grin, “I would, but I can’t,” prompting laughter in the courtroom housed in the Old Courthouse in Leesburg.
Friday’s trial was unlike most the courts see. The prosecutors and defense attorneys were all high school students, the jury was made up of volunteers from the community, there were no real victims and no consequences: this was a mock trial.
The trial comes at the conclusion of the Leadership in the Law Summer Camp, a program that gives rising high school seniors in Loudoun and Fauquier counties insight into the circuit court system and the work that is required of prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The camp, in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Fauquier Bar Association, the Loudoun Bar Association, the Rotary Club of Leesburg and several area law firms.
Although there are no real consequences and the case is fictitious, the trial felt far from fake. Students produced evidence, addressed the jury, questioned and cross-examined witnesses and interacted with the judge. Witnesses, played by professionals in the field, were even sworn in.
Heather Scott, an attorney who played the role of victim Angel Sterling, said she's seen high school students benefit from mock trials no matter what career they pursue.
"It gives them so much confidence because they're speaking in front of people, learning how to formulate an argument and think critically," she said. "They'll need those skills even if they don't go into law."
Though adults served as mentors available to the students throughout the trial, the students ran the show, rarely asking for their assistance, taking the case head on.
This year’s mock trial centered on a very timely issue: cyber bullying.
In the case, 15-year-old Angel Sterling, played by Scott, recently moved to the area and had a difficult time fitting in at her school, the fictionally named Leesburg High School. In an effort to fit in, Angel attended a party and took a drug that was offered to her by defendant Jesse Woodson, played by attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, a member of a gang called the Snakes.
After Angel did not pay for the drug, she was terrorized and threatened by Jesse and fellow Snake members. Two people, one of them donning a snake shirt, broke into her home to steal her ill grandfather’s prescription medications. A “Face Place” page called Clip Angel’s Wings was created for students to talk badly about Angel and, finally, she was assaulted, rendered unconscious for two days after she was struck in the head with a brick.
Students Caroline Kerr, Jimmy Cummins and Samuel Tate represented Angel on the side of the prosecution. Students Austin White, Charity Klicka and Sean Trapani posed as defense attorneys for Jesse.
Eileen Swicker, media chair for the Loudoun County Bar Association, one of the camp’s sponsors, said this year’s trial focused on cyber bullying because it’s an issue many high school students face, and few realize bullying can be grounds for a civil case.
“These students will go back to their final year of high school and bring back the knowledge on this subject that there are limits to what you can do,” Swicker said.
Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary Clemens, who has been involved with the Leadership in the Law Summer Camp for 10 years, worked to secure volunteers for the jury, which is usually made up of business leaders, elected officials or those active in community service in the area.
“It’s a very good educational program for the young people,” he said.
Like attorneys in a true court case, Clemens added, students were given one week to prepare for the trial, going over evidence, meeting with witnesses and determining strategies. This year, the program put on four trials: two criminal and two civil, Clemens said.
The six-day camp gives students the opportunity to meet with local judges, lawyers and law clerks, and also take a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“My favorite part is having the opportunity to interact with the students and share my experiences with them,” Clemens said.
Other students participating in mock trials included: Brandon Lee, Deborah Cadenas, Heather Swede, Giselle Tirado, Hannah Zontine, Matthew “Finn” Petrides, Elaina Casares, Gillia Baatai, John “Jack” Coates, Jessica Hang, Michael Beaudet, Stephan Schnabel, Ariana Staffen, Sarah Greenspon, Christopher Berger, Mackenzie Reid, Marcellus Black and Arianna Israel.