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HomeCommunityHomeschool Youth Compete in Mock Trial at Lake County Courthouse

Homeschool Youth Compete in Mock Trial at Lake County Courthouse

The afternoon of May 2, 8th and 9th grade homeschooled students from Classical Con­versations Challenge B classes of Duluth, Pine River, Cloquet, and Two Harbors gathered at the Lake County Courthouse to hold a mock trial. The trial was presided over by the Honorable Judge Steve Hanke, District Judge of Lake County.

The fictional case argued was Commonwealth of Pennsylva­nia v Zillias, a “criminal action charging a real estate devel­oper with reckless homicide in the deaths of two people at a construction site following the collapse of a construction crane.” The case was originally written by Jonathan A. Grode and Paul W. Kaufman for the 2013 Pennsylvania Statewide High School Mock Trial Com­petition. In Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v Zillias, the defendant was Tatum Zillias, owner of Project Z, a con­struction company working on Franklin’s Trench. The plain­tiff was the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Ryan Soderling being sworn in by Zachary Minion.

After Mock Trial Adminis­trator Autumn Regas opened the trial, round one began with Cloquet and Pine River stu­dents as prosecution and Du­luth and Two Harbors students as defense. The bailiff, Zachary Minion of Pine River, opened the court. Judge Steve Hanke shared a few opening remarks. Then the defendant entered the plea, that Tatum Zillias could not be guilty of murder in the third degree, since Zillias did not act with malice towards the two people killed by the col­lapse of the crane, and that the crane’s collapse was likely an act of sabotage by an individu­al living in the trench, and one of the crane’s two victims, Arty Dent.

The lawyers for the prosecu­tion in round one were Mariya Friesner and Zachary Walberg (Pine River), and Finnegan Vandal (Cloquet). Defense lawyers were Paul Grotte and Ryan Soderling (Duluth). The prosecution’s case was first, with witnesses London Pack­ard (played by Lucy Stevens) and Emerson Turnkin (Elliana Nelson), site supervisor for Franklin’s Trench. Packard, a homeless person living on the construction site, gave testimo­ny that Zillias cared little for the people living in Franklin’s Trench. Turnkin stated that Zillias was known for cutting corners on safety.

The defense witnesses were called next: Micah Estratton (Christian Klevgaard), crane owner; Reese Dentner (Lau­ren Grotte), a reporter work­ing on a story about Franklin’s Trench; and Tatum Zillias (Jo­nah Kogowski), the accused and owner of Project Z. Estrat­ton testified that, even though the lift being performed by the crane at the time of its collapse was above its weight limit, and even though the winds were strong, the crane had per­formed similar lifts before and was competent. Dentner stated that Arty Dent had left a man­ifesto declaring he would sab­otage Project Z. Zillias gave testimony that Project Z was done for the betterment of the community, and that Zillias had no wish to harm anyone. It was also brought up that a fire ax was found missing the day of the crane’s collapse, and it appeared that one of the cables had been cut. The closing argu­ments finished round one.

After a short inter-trial re­cess, students returned for round two of the same case, but with students switching roles. This gave students the opportunity to argue both sides of the case, and caused them to look at both sides of an issue.

After round two, the results were announced: the Cloquet/ Pine River team had scored the most points in the mock tri­al. Points were based on each team’s presentation, use of eye contact, and sound arguments. Judge Hanke said he would likely rule in favor of the de­fense, Tatum Zillias, had this been a real case, due to the burden of proof for the prose­cution being hard to show.

Marita Klevgaard, the Dulu­th Challenge B tutor, explained the focus of the mock trial for the Challenge B students. “In the second semester, mock trials are the focus. The director and students spend the second semester preparing a case to be heard in a county courthouse at the end of the semester… students decide on the most effective way to present their case…the skills gained in crit­ical thinking, public speaking, and persuasive presentation help students prepare for next year as they advance to the Challenge I debate seminar. The mock trial truly is the high­light of the Challenge B home­school experience.”

Marita Klevgaard, Charlie Minion, and Tami Nelson, di­rectors for Duluth, Pine River, and Cloquet Challenge B re­spectively, shared the follow­ing. “We are immensely proud of the hard work, ‘stick-to-itiveness’, and the application of common sense our students have put forth throughout their preparation for this mock trial. It has been a joy to guide them and witness their growth in de­bate, public thinking, and crit­ical thinking skills throughout this difficult yet worthwhile process! Thank you to all the parents and friends who have been so supportive of our stu­dents and us! We could not have done this without you! Most importantly, thanks be to God who has graciously guid­ed our every step this school year to bring us to this point!”

Thank you, Judge Hanke and the Lake County Courthouse, for taking time to give students a better understanding of the United States Judicial process, and for making sure jus­tice is served in Lake County.

Haley Searls
Haley Searls
Hello! My name is Haley Searls. I’ve loved writing from an early age, though my nonfiction writing at five years old consisted mainly of weather and gardening reports. I still have some of those early articles: “It’s sunny.” “It’s still sunny.” “It’s raining.” I’m glad to say my writing has improved since then. I wrote a guest post for the Silver Bay Public Library blog, and was the writer/editor of the newsletter for my American Heritage Girls troop. I have been writing for the North Shore Journal since June 2022. Besides writing, I love reading, drawing, photography, music, and spending time with family and friends. Two books that have really influenced my writing are Reforming Journalism by Marvin Olasky and Writer to Writer by Bodie and Brock Thoene. As a journalist, I want to share positive community interactions and inspire people to make lasting connections. Article topics that interest me are ones which show community activities and involvement. Such articles include community events, youth accomplishments, library programming, small businesses, local history, local artists and authors, art programs, and cultural events such as theater and dance. If you have an article idea, email the North Shore Journal with my name in the subject line! I look forward to hearing from you!
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