Iowa City High School Mock Trial Team Wins Second Place in USA

The Iowa City High Mock Trial team won the state championship in Iowa this spring and qualified for the nationals. At the national championships, the team advanced to the national final, losing the title game to a private school in Maryland. They finished second in the country. (Photo provided by Iowa City High School)

IOWA CITY – The Iowa City High School students placed second in the National High School Mock Trial Championship this year and won the Iowa High School competition for the first time in team history.

City High’s Shoshie Hemley, 18, said it was the biggest achievement of her high school career.

“We joke that the mock trial is where young theater kids who are competitive will unleash their competitive spirit,” Hemley said. “The mock trial is a performance, and we prepare for it that way by reading lines and rehearsing.”

It’s improvisation too, and for the students witnessing, it’s creating a character, Hemley said.

“You think standing up, you argue standing up, and when you win it’s all the more satisfying,” she said.

Hemley is a closing attorney for the mock trial team. She gives the closing speech of the prosecution. The defense gives rebuttals, then Hemley has about 30 seconds to write his final submissions.

She’s a lawyer because – as a coach once described her – she plays “a little spicier,” she said.

In the state tournament, Hemley won the All-State Attorney title, and his team members Tobey Epstein and Madelyn Hellwig won All-State Witness.

Only 13 of more than 240 lawyers and 15 of more than 480 witnesses were honored as all-state winners, said Lisa Williams, mock trial coach and Iowa City school board member.

Other team members include Ananya Albrecht-Buehler, Julianne Berry-Stoelzle, Francesca Brown, Caleigh Stanier, Johanna Kopelman, Harper Denniston and Katherine Geerdes.

In a mock trial, students receive case notes before competing and write direct examinations for witnesses, collaborate on cross-examinations, write opening and closing arguments, and develop their case theory.

Both competitions were virtual this year due to the pandemic.

The state matter was a civil matter.

During an outdoor concert in Des Moines, a spectator was killed by a fallen tree after being struck by lightning.

The deceased’s spouse was suing the group for not canceling the show.

“It was a difficult case to argue because he was a civilian,” Hemley said. “There was a contract, and it was a question of who has responsibility in the contract.”

The case in the national competition was a criminal case.

A tugboat operator was sailing the Ohio River when he struck a capsized fishing boat. One person was killed. The state was prosecuting the operator of the tug for reckless homicide and fled the scene.

It’s a toss that decides which team is the pursuit and which team is the defense.

The West High Mock Trial Team began less than 10 years ago.

“We have improved in leaps and bounds,” Hemley said. “It shows how dedicated our coaches are because they’ve built this program from scratch in less than a decade.

Hemley plans to go to Williams College in Massachusetts this fall, where she will study political science.

Williams said the mock trial was not just for students looking to become lawyers. He teaches a lot of practical lessons like public speaking.

Williams said each member of the team did “the best I’ve ever seen them do” at the national championships.

“They put it all on the line, and it was a perfect round of sham trials,” said Williams.

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