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Students take over courtrooms for Mock Trial exercise

Judge VictoriRossetti attorneys Joanne Fratianni Mark Peavey with Lake  County Bar Foundation. |Courtesy Lake County Bar Association

Judge Victoria Rossetti, and attorneys Joanne Fratianni and Mark Peavey with the Lake County Bar Foundation. |Courtesy Lake County Bar Association

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Updated: March 12, 2014 6:15AM

High school students kept the Lake County Courthouse humming Saturday as students from several local schools participated in the 10th annual High School Mock Trial Invitational, acting as attorneys and witnesses in the educational exercise that serves as practice for an upcoming statewide competition.

Saturday’s mock trial didn’t lack intrigue. It centered on a fictional case inspired by Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast that took place in 1938.

The case, was titled “Jersey Johnson v. Columbia Broadcasting System,” with the plaintiff, Jersey Johnson, alleging severe emotional distress brought on by what was believed to be a live broadcast of a Martian invasion.

Lake County Circuit Court Judge Victoria Rossetti, one of the founders of the program, has seen it grow over the past 10 years both in size and visibility.

“When we first started, we had maybe one or two Lake County high schools participating. This year we had four. It was wonderful,” Rossetti said.

The judge said a total of eight teams participated Saturday. It is open to high schools across the state, and Rossetti said requests to participate are even being received from out-of-state schools. DuPage County also held a mock trial day last week.

The mock trial theme changes every year, and Rossetti said the “War of the Worlds” case captured the imagination of students who participated.

During the trials, held in second-floor courtrooms in the Courthouse, students took on the roles of attorneys, victims, and witnesses in the case. Lake County judges presided over the trials and the juries, who evaluated the students, consisted of private practitioners, assistant state’s attorneys and assistant public defenders. The evaluators scored the students on their ability, presentation, and effectiveness.

A Lake County contingent of Carmel, Deerfield, Highland Park and Libertyville high schools will move on to participate in this year’s Illinois State Bar Association mock trial competition at the University of Illinois Law School in Champaign on March 8 and 9.

In Saturday’s mock trial exercise, Evanston High School took first place, Highland Park took second place and Libertyville took third place.

The mock trial program was initially organized by Rossetti and former Assistant State’s Attorney Christen Bishop, who is now a judge.

The mock trial event, usually held in February, is a collaborative effort by the Lake County Law-Related Education Initiative, the Lake County Juvenile Officers Association, and the Lake County Bar Foundation.

Rossetti says she plans to continue playing a part in the annual program, and that Bishop is also committed to continued participation.

“I love doing it,” she said. “A lot of people put in so much work and effort to make it work. As long as we have students who are interested, I will be there.”

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