BHS mock trial team

Baker High School's mock trial team

The La Grande-Baker basketball rivalry was heating up on Peacock Court at Baker High School Saturday night, but earlier in the day classmates of both teams were using their words to fight it out in a courtroom in La Grande.

The Baker team emerged victorious in a two-team Regional Mock Trial Competition against the La Grande team Saturday at the Union County Courthouse.

As the first-place finishers, the Baker team, led by adviser Kris Pepera, a BHS social studies teacher, will advance to the state contest scheduled March 6-7 at the Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland.

The Baker and La Grande teams were judged through three rounds of competition in Saturday’s matchup, said Jessica Gallagher, in a telephone interview from her office in Portland Monday. She is the senior program manager for the Classroom Law Project and state coordinator of the Oregon High School Mock Trial Program.

Scoring is based on how well students perform as a team, as attorneys and as witnesses, Gallagher said. The judging is tallied from the three rounds to determine the winner. The scores are shared only with the teams for use in improving future performances, she said.

Judges are community volunteers who include attorneys, educators and others recruited by organizers.

The Eastern Region contest was one of seven that took place Saturday, Gallagher said. Other competitions were scheduled in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Lane, Jackson and Deschutes counties.

This year, students were given a criminal case on which to base their presentations. Each year they rotate between criminal and civil court cases, Gallagher said.

The outcome of the contest is not based on winning in court, but rather on performing well along the way.

The teams are judged based on traits such as poise, confidence and sportsmanship as they work their way through the case, Gallagher said.

Judges for the student attorneys consider how they conduct their opening statements and closing arguments and how they examine the witnesses during the mock trial.

Students portraying witnesses are judged on how well they play their characters and their ability to stay in character on the witness stand.

Pepera said the 13-member BHS team started practicing for the reginoal competition just before winter vacation. When school resumed they began practicing daily after school and on Saturdays, including visits to the Baker County Courthouse where Circuit Court Judge Matt Shirtcliff and assistant district attorney Kevin Imhoff assisted the team.

Pepera said he was impressed with both the BHS and La Grande teams’ “courtroom etiquette and professionalism.”

He said he’s excited about the students’ opportunity to compete against teams from much larger schools at the state event.

“It’s a neat experience for the Baker kids,” Pepera said.

Baker team members are:

Seniors Anthony Cowen, Taya Riley, Laura Illingsworth, Katie Villalobos and Russell Anderson; juniors Hunter Long, Kyle Logsdon, Karl Bowman and Payton Shirtcliff; sophomores Savannah Brown, Phoebe Wise and Jose Arenas; and freshman Thaddeus Pepera.

There will be 18 teams competing at the state tournament. During the Friday and Saturday contests, there will be four rounds leading to a final championship round, Gallagher said. The winner of the final advances to the national competition.

It is set for May 7-10 at Evansville, Indiana.

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