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Legal stars shine

Luverne High School mock trial members are (front row, from left): Advisor Deb Schandelmeier, Hannah Hoogland, Megan Rogers, Jadyn Anderson, Susan Thompson, Kaitlyn Roberts, Emma Verbrugge, Tatiana Gust, (back row, from left), Hans Bakken, Knute Oldre, Dylan Thorson, Spencer Schacht, Anika Gust, Charlie Sietsema. Submitted photo

LUVERNE — When the 13 members of Luverne High School’s mock trial team upset Lakeview High School in a Feb. 20 competition at the Redwood County Courthouse by a score of 206-204, the normally sedate students whooped with glee.

After all, their triumph clinched the LHS team’s first trip to state since 2006 — and the fact it was a victory over arch-rival Lakeview made it that much sweeter.

“When my daughter called after the trial, I could hear everyone in the background just yelling for joy because they were not expected to beat Lakeview,” attested Evan Verbrugge, father of Emma Verbrugge, a “witness” on this year’s LHS team.

“Seeing them accomplish something like this is pretty awesome.”

Indeed, Lakeview was the eighth-ranked mock trial team in the Minnesota State High School Mock Trial Program (sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association) for 2014. Instead, it’s the LHS team that will join 11 others in competition today.

Bright and early this morning, the LHS team, accompanied by advisor Deb Schandelmeier, headed for Minneapolis, where they are guaranteed to participate in at least three rounds as Region 5 representatives.

“The championship round is Friday,” said Jeff Haubrich, a Luverne attorney and partner at Klosterbuer Haubrich L.L.P., who has served for seven years as the volunteer lawyer coach for the LHS team.

“Unfortunately, I have a (real) jury trial in town, so I can’t go.”

Schandelmeier and Haubrich began working with their students in late October; the state mock trial case this year is the State of Independence vs. Sandy Townsend.

“The defendant in this case is being accused of murder after the body of a homeless woman she had previously employed was found in the dumpster directly behind her restaurant,” detailed Schandelmeier, who has directed practice with her motivated students three times a week for the past several months.

Haubrich lends his legal expertise and skills to the LHS practice sessions at least once weekly during the season.

“The kids work really hard, and I like working with them,” said Haubrich. “I’m a big proponent of keeping kids involved in useful, educational activities like this.

“The students gain a basic understanding of the legal system through their involvement in the mock trial program, and it also teaches them a lot of responsibility.”

Schandelmeier concurs that her mock trial team members are determined and persistent.

“This is a wonderful team of hard working and talented individuals who have many other things competing for their time but are willing to devote a great share of it to mock trial,” said Schandelmeier.

In mock trial, participants assume roles that correspond to those filled daily in the U.S. court system.

For instance, this year’s LHS team is divided as follows: Kaitlyn Roberts, Spencer Schacht and Knute Oldre are prosecution lawyers, with witnesses Emma Verbrugge, Susan Thompson and Hannah Hoogland.

Acting as defense lawyers are Anika Gust, Schacht and Dylan Thorson, while their witnesses are Charlie Sietsema, Susan Thompson and Megan Rogers. Serving as bailiff is Hans Bakken; Tatiana Gust and Jadyn Anderson round out the group as timekeepers.

“Acting is an element of mock trial, particularly for people who play the witness part,” acknowledged Haubrich. “We all know law makes for good TV and movies — but it’s not nearly that exciting most days in real courtrooms.”

Still, Haubrich and Schandelmeier maintain that mock trial teaches students valuable lessons about legal proceedings, and tests their intellects, speaking skills and, to some extent, acting ability.

“Mock trial cases alternate each year between criminal and civil cases, and this year’s case is a criminal one,” said Haubrich. “These kids work hard and spend a lot of time on the cases; they’re a really good bunch of kids.”

Verbrugge, whose daughter had shared the joyful news of the team’s state qualification with him via cell phone, also noted that mock trial offers non-athletes a chance to be competitive and excel.

Said Verbrugge, “It’s not only sports teams that can make it to state and proudly represent their schools.”

The Luverne High School mock trial team competes today at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Results of the state mock trial competition may be viewed following the event at www.mnbar.org/public/mock-trial/state-tournament.

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