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ONU Hosts Mock Trial Invitational Tournament

Ohio Northern played host to the third-annual Polar Bear Invitational Mock Trial Tournament at the ONU Pettit College of Law Jan. 17-18. A total of 46 teams from 34 colleges and universities in 13 states participated in the tournament, with teams traveling from as far away as California, Florida and Mississippi to compete.

The tournament consisted of four rounds, with 23 trials going on simultaneously in each round. Each mock trial had a panel of two judges, who evaluated students on knowledge of case material, and presentation and litigation techniques.

The case this year, as assigned to each mock trial group by the American Mock Trial Association, deals with civil defamation. In the case, a gubernatorial candidate has filed for defamation against a news network. Teams have to prepare both the defense and plaintiff sides of the case, as they are responsible for trying each side twice within a competition.

Ohio State took top honors in the tournament, with Case Western Reserve, Eastern Michigan, Illinois State and the second Ohio State team rounding out the top five. Ohio Northern sent three teams to the competition, with Team 450 finishing 4-4, Team 449 finishing 3-5 and Team 448 finishing 4.5-3.5.

Along with awarding team honors, outstanding attorneys and witnesses were also recognized. Ohio Northern's Katie Elsass, a senior forensic biology major from Lima, Ohio, was named one of the tournament's outstanding witnesses.

Elsass has been in a witness role since joining the ONU team this past fall, though the specific witness she has played has varied.

"The judges are looking for the witnesses to be believable," she said. "As we go to more trials, we learn what is working and what just isn't, and adjust accordingly."

In this tournament, Elsass portrayed a death investigator on the defense side, and a network producer on the plaintiff side.

Dr. JoAnn Scott, professor of political science and advisor of the ONU mock trial team, emphasized the benefits afforded to students involved in mock trial beyond awards and honors.

At the ONU invitational, students got the chance to try a case against different regions, where "legal norms are different," Scott said. Practice of this sort only adds to the mock trial experience. Since the majority of team members are considering law school, Scott said mock trial allows them to see if it's really what they want to do.

Elsass also highlighted the benefits, saying, "I'm getting great experience being in a courtroom and testifying in front of a judge and jury, even if it is all make-believe. I think it's valuable for anyone who will be required to talk in front of people, especially if they will need to be persuasive."

An invitational such as this one is just practice, Scott said. Teams gain experience and learn from their mistakes in order to prepare for regional and national competition later in the year.