I saw some brilliant minds at work last Saturday during the "Mock Trial" state championship match between Kaimuki and Kauai High.
James Burns, chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, ruled in favor of the plaintiff, represented by Kauai, but there were no losers in this competition.
It's unfortunate these students don't get the front-page headlines and recognition instead of the bad ones. I think the state should encourage programs like "Mock Trial" instead of subjecting them to budget cuts.
"It's amazing how much time and effort they are willing to put in," Burns said of "Mock Trial" participants. "These are the good ones and there are more of them than bad ones.
"I know we're going to see some of them as lawyers one day," added Burns, who has been volunteering time to the "Mock Trial" program for more than 10 years.
Kauai juniors Agnes Botelho and Neil Young along with Kaimuki seniors Jeremy Pippin, Michele Abelaye and Ida Anderson are definite prospects.
The case used for the "Mock Trial" final is the same one litigated the entire season.
This year's theme of drugs in schools is featured in "Kyle Wilkins vs. the New Columbia County School District."
"What we have is a father who pushes his son to be a track star and the only way the boy can succeed is to cheat by taking steroids," Burns said. "The boy dies and the father is suing the school because the steroids were obtained on campus."
Since participants don't know until four days before trial who they're going to represent, teams must prepare arguments for both the defendant and plaintiff.
Kauai and Kaimuki had argued both sides during the season and were undefeated going into the final trial.
"We've been practicing two or three times a week, mostly in the evening (from 5-7 p.m.), since at the end of October," Kauai High Coach Dorothy Hoe said. "As we got closer to trials, we would practice all day Saturday (8 a.m.-4 p.m.)."
Kauai's student attorneys are coached by four lawyers -- Michael Radcliffe, Ted Chihara, Robyn Smith and Eric Fujii. Hoe also has an adviser-coach, Becky Strom.
There are no seniors on the 15-member Kauai team, captained by Botelho and Young.
Other members include juniors Julie Lopez, Erin Sullivan, Katy Molyneaux, Meagan Callaway and Matthew Momohara; sophomores Chad Nishimura, Aaron Wilson and Brandy Nakashima, and freshmen Jodee Crane, Amy Kubota, Nathan Momohara, Brian Nishiguchi and Ryan Wada.
During a trial, three team members are cast as expert witnesses.
"It's a great learning experience so we try to give everyone a role during the season," Hoe said.
"The program is very beneficial because students learn how to research and present relevant facts, and develop their speaking voices.
"They also become aware of social issues," she added. "This year we dealt with drugs in schools, last year it was domestic violence and the year before it was firearms."
Kaimuki team members Pippin, Abelaye, Anderson and Lou Feliciano along with their coach, Brian Tsutsui, are all active in the Honolulu School District's federally funded Teen Court program.
Teen Court juries do not decide guilt or innocence, only sentences, for Family Court cases. Students serve as prosecutors, defense attorneys, bailiffs, clerks and jurors. Since May 1996, it has handled more than 350 cases.
Tsutsui assembled a talented "Mock Trial" team but says finding time to practice was difficult.
"We had some very, very bright students but they're into drama, work, Teen Court; so many other activities that it was difficult to get them together," Tsutsui said.
Other members of Kaimuki's "Mock Trial" team were Rheanne Lang, Rowena Yee, Sheri Yang, Laurence Nash and Sherie Char.