Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill Middle lawyers make the case at Greenville County Courthouse

Fort Mill eighth-graders Natasha McNeil, Kennedy Brown and Deaundra Greene acted as attorneys in the case of The Distracted Drone Driver during the Mock Trial competition Oct. 24.
Fort Mill eighth-graders Natasha McNeil, Kennedy Brown and Deaundra Greene acted as attorneys in the case of The Distracted Drone Driver during the Mock Trial competition Oct. 24.

Not many people look forward to appearing in a courtroom, but 20 Fort Mill Middle School students were excited to step foot into Court Room 8 at the Greenville County Courthouse Oct. 24.

The students, members of the Fort Mill Middle School Mock Trial Team, were there to compete in a South Carolina regional mock trial competition against six schools. Merriwether Middle School from North Augusta took home the top prize, but several FMMS students won individual awards.

The Middle School Mock Trial Program is a hands-on exercise in learning about due process. It’s a team activity with students representing attorneys and witnesses for both sides in a fictional case being tried in court.

The Fort Mill team participated in several mock trials. The first trial was The Case of the Distracted Drone Driver.

They presented their case before South Carolina Judge Bill Mayer.

They began preparing for the competition in August, said Fort Mill Middle School teacher Lisa Pait, one of two teachers who helped prepare the team.

This was the second year for the middle school mock trial team that was populated with sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students. It was revived last year after a hiatus.

Melissa Inzerillo was a one of four South Carolina attorneys who volunteered their time with the team as an attorney coach. She noted the three-month prep time was needed because “we are asking them to do a lot. We’re asking them to prepare a case and present it.”

Inzerillo, a public defender in the 16th Circuit, explained the three months also allowed the teachers and attorneys to determine which students were suited to the roles that were played in the courtroom drama.

Those who were more analytical were placed in the role of lawyers while those who had a flair for the dramatic became witnesses while others were cast as timekeepers and bailiffs.

Fort Mill Middle’s team met twice a week during the past three months and upped it to three times a week in the past few weeks lead to the competition. Some of the Fort Mill students acting as attorneys were: Denaundria Greene, Kerrington Johnson, Natasha McNeil, Kennedy Brown, Solomon Moore, Anna Codill, Jada Brown and Kennedy Johnson. Sruthi Mortala and Kaylen Pritchard were witnesses in the first trial.

“It helps with any aspect of life,” said Walter Dusky of Law Review Education – an arm of the South Carolina Bar Association – who helped in the event.

Dusky, a Fort Mill Mock Trial veteran who graduated from FMHS in 1999, explained the benefits of being part of the team.

“You have to be able to speak well, to read well, to write well and work well as a team. Those are all aspects,” of what they have to do in the mock trials, he said.

“It’s a good experience for any child,” Pait said. “It’s a great way to teach public speaking and develop their analytical skills.”

Pait said the experience boosts students’ self-confidence.

“It’s amazing to watch them go from quiet and reserved children to being very self confident,” she said.

Inzerillo, who’s volunteered with the program in the past, said she always encourages students to return to the team the following year. The reason is twofold: the more experienced students the team has, the better it will do and, it also allows for the older students to mentor the younger ones.

They experience in mock trial has inspired career aspirations in some students.

“I want to be a lawyer when I grow up,” said eighth-grader Solomon Moore. “I want to help people while doing something I’m very good at doing, which is talking.”

Fellow eighth-grader Kennedy Brown, a mock trial participant since the sixth grade, also wants to be a lawyer. Brown noted being on the team “helps with my public speaking and it helps me to think on my feet.”

The Middle School Mock Trial Competition has been going on for a little more than 15 years said, Cynthia Colthran. There are 38 teams competing throughout the state.

Learn more:

Several Fort Mill Middle School students won peer and attorney awards for their performance in the Mock Trial competition in Greenville:

Peer awards

Denaundria Greene, attorney

Sruthi Mortala, witness

Kennedy Johnson, attorney

Dalisa Salgado, witness

Attorney awards

Denaundria Greene, attorney

Sruthi Mortala, witness

Kennedy Johnson, attorney

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