Smokey Barn News
Tuesday March 18, 2014
After the Springfield High School Mock Trial Team won their district to qualify for the state competition, the team had one goal: to win the state title for the first time in the school’s history. Although SHS teams had competed at the state tournament before and had placed as high as 5th, the title of State Champion had remained out of reach. “We changed our after-school work schedules and gave up our free time on the weekends to work on Mock Trial,” said plaintiff witness Susannah White. “We didn’t just want to go to State; we wanted to win State.”
Their commitment paid off: Springfield High School now has the honor of being the 2014 Tennessee State High School Mock Trial champions.
It wasn’t an easy road to the title. Only three days before the state competition, Anighya Crocker, who doubles as both a plaintiff and defense attorney, came down with a high fever and a severe throat infection. Under doctor’s orders, Crocker, who played a large role in securing Springfield’s victory at the district competition, could not compete in the state event.
The Springfield team didn’t panic. Two veteran student attorneys, Maddie Loving and Kylie Ronnow, took over Crocker’s duties. “Losing Anighya was a blow to the team, both competitively and emotionally. We had to figure out a way to cover his role, and we were all very sad that Anighya couldn’t be with us,” said Ronnow. “But we were still determined to win State.”
The Tennessee State High School Mock Trial Competition is an annual event sponsored by the Young Lawyers Division of the Tennessee Bar Association. The state of Tennessee is divided into several Mock Trial competition districts. The high schools that prevail in their districts advance to the state competition. By winning their district in February, Springfield’s Mock Trial Team became one of the top 16 teams from across the state to qualify for the state competition held at the Metro-Davidson Courthouse in Nashville March 14-15.
Students who compete in Mock Trial assume the roles of attorneys and witnesses as they present a model court case. The 2014 case involves a struggling songwriter who is suing a music industry professional for copyright infringement. The plaintiff claims that the defendant stole a song that she wrote. “The 2014 competition case is extremely complex. It involves both copyright law and music theory, so we had to master some pretty difficult concepts,” said Olivia Harris, who plays the defendant.
Teams are evaluated by a panel of judges who award points for the team’s performance. Student attorneys earn points for their knowledge of the rules of evidence and their skills in courtroom procedure. Student witnesses earn points for their knowledge of the case materials and their testimony on the stand. Each school’s plaintiff and defense goes up against those of other schools.
To start a competition round, the plaintiff and defense deliver opening statements. Opening for Springfield’s plaintiff side is Crystal Lemus. “I give the jury an overview of the facts of the case and the issues they will need to consider,” said Lemus. In her opening statement, Lemus previews the testimony of the plaintiff witnesses and asks the jury to find that the defendant did, in fact, steal the plaintiff’s song.
Next is the opening statement from the defense, delivered by Springfield attorney Reena Patel. “I lay out the defendant’s case and highlight key points for the jury,” said Patel. Patel also introduces the jury to the elements of copyright law to provide context for the testimony the jury will hear from the defense witnesses.
After opening statements, the plaintiff calls three witnesses to prove its case, and then the defense calls three witnesses to present its side. Leading off for Springfield’s plaintiff team is attorney Maddie Loving (filling in for Anighya Crocker) and witness Susannah White, who plays the role of the plaintiff. “Our job is to tell the jury what happened from my point of view – to explain why I am suing the defendant” said White. White claims that the defendant stole her song, gave the song a new title, and made money from it. To support her claim that the song is her own creation, White sings portions of her testimony.
Next up for Springfield’s plaintiff side is attorney Kylie Ronnow and witness Grace Shoemaker, who plays an expert in music theory and composition. “I analyze the words and music of the songs in question to show the jury that they are substantially similar,” said Shoemaker. “Under the law, that supports our claim that the defendant stole the plaintiff’s song.” Ronnow and Shoemaker also help the jury understand the basics of music theory in order to evaluate the songs.
Finally for the plaintiff, attorney Crystal Lemus directs witness Charlotte Padfield. Padfield plays the role of a talent scout with a rough past who claims to have given the defendant a copy of the plaintiff’s song. “We need to prove that the defendant had access to the song to win the case,” said Padfield, “but my character’s history of rough living means that Crystal and I have to fend off some tough questions on cross examination.”
After the three plaintiff witnesses give their testimony, the defense presents its proof. First up for Springfield on defense is attorney Kylie Ronnow (filling in for Anighya Crocker) and witness Olivia Harris, playing the role of the defendant. “The fact that the song I claim to have written is so similar to the defendant’s song is an issue we have to address,” said Harris. While on the stand, Harris explains the creative details of her song to prove that she is the song’s original author.
Second for Springfield’s defense is attorney Maddie Loving and witness Juwan Cross, who plays an expert in music theory and copyright law. “Our job is to convince the jury that the songs are not the same at all when they are analyzed using the elements of copyright law,” said Cross. To do this, Cross goes through the two songs line-by-line and explains why, under copyright law, the similarities do not prove that one song was copied from the other or that copyright infringement occurred.
Last up for the defense is attorney Reena Patel and witness Sarah Jones. Jones plays the role of a community member who heard the plaintiff perform her song at various events. “Our job on defense is to convince the jury that the defendant never had access to the plaintiff’s song, so she could not have copied it,” said Jones. In her testimony, Jones claims that the song she heard the plaintiff perform is not the song at issue in the case.
After the defense rests its case, the plaintiff gives a closing statement to the jury. Plaintiff attorney Kylie Ronnow walks the jury through the facts of the case and reviews the testimony to show that the defendant committed copyright infringement. “The standard is ‘a preponderance of evidence’, so we use the music analysis to show that the majority of the plaintiff’s song was copied by the defendant,” said Ronnow.
Defense attorney Maddie Loving delivers the closing statement for the defense, tying the testimony and facts together to argue that the defendant did not commit copyright infringement. “To prevail, we have to make the elements of copyright law understandable to the jury,” said Loving. “Our goal is to convince the jury that under the doctrines of ‘scenes a faire’ and ‘substantial similarity’, the songs are not similar.”
During the preliminary rounds of the State Mock Trial competition, Springfield’s plaintiff side went head-to-head against defense teams from St. Mary’s Episcopal School and the Chattanooga Southeast Tennessee Home Education Association. Both St. Mary’s and CSTHEA have previously won the state competition, and CSTHEA has won two national championships. The SHS defense side faced Bearden High School and Unicoi County, winning the verdict in both rounds.
Team scores from the four preliminary rounds determine which two schools advance to compete in the final round for the title of State Champion. After tabulating the scores, the tournament judges named Springfield High School and White Station High School as the final competitors. “We knew that White Station is a great team, because they have won State several times in prior years,” said Patel. “But we weren’t nervous or afraid. We were excited and determined.”
In the final round, Tennessee State Supreme Court Justice Connie Clark presided as Springfield’s defense took on White Station’s plaintiff. At the conclusion of the round, the judges deliberated, and the winner was announced.
Springfield High School was named the 2014 High School Mock Trial State Champion.
In addition to their team win, one SHS student brought home an individual state award. Maddie Loving, a Springfield senior and four-year Mock Trial veteran who doubled as a plaintiff and defense attorney, was named the MVP of the Springfield team. “I am truly honored, but most of all, I am so proud of our team and what we have accomplished,” said Loving. “We can’t wait to compete at Nationals.”
The SHS Mock Trial Team will represent the state of Tennessee at the National High School Mock Trial competition in Madison, Wisconsin May 8-10. Magistrate Lisa Richter and attorney Marisa Combs serve as attorney coaches for the team. Springfield High School teachers Leslie Diehm and Tim Overstreet are the faculty advisors.
The Springfield High School Mock Trial Team expresses its sincere gratitude to the following:
– Commerce Union Bank and the Robertson County Bar Association for donations that helped defray our competition costs.
– The law firm of Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop for the use of office space while at the state competition.
– Catherine Clark and Jessica Holt of the Robertson County Teachers’ Center for creating our exhibit enlargements.
– Parents and family of our team members; school system administrators, principals and faculty; and community members for their support and encouragement.
We so appreciate your generosity and your efforts on our behalf.
We bring you ALL the News in Robertson County, Tennessee.