Mock trial exercise aids defense attorneys

MOHAVE COUNTY/ Courtesy
New defense attorneys engage in a mock trial educational activity with volunteers from a Kingman Academy of Learning drama class and seniors from the Katheryn Heidenreich Adult Center Jan. 16, at the Mohave County Public Defender’s Office in Kingman. Pictured (from left) Public Defender Dana Hlavac as judge, Kyle Kinkead as prosecutor, mock-defendant John Stemkowski; defense attorneys Barbara Cook and Michael Wozniak and prosecuting co-counsel Denise Abrams observe.

MOHAVE COUNTY/ Courtesy New defense attorneys engage in a mock trial educational activity with volunteers from a Kingman Academy of Learning drama class and seniors from the Katheryn Heidenreich Adult Center Jan. 16, at the Mohave County Public Defender’s Office in Kingman. Pictured (from left) Public Defender Dana Hlavac as judge, Kyle Kinkead as prosecutor, mock-defendant John Stemkowski; defense attorneys Barbara Cook and Michael Wozniak and prosecuting co-counsel Denise Abrams observe.

KINGMAN - Attorneys from the County Public Defender's Office got some practice with a little help from some friends.

Students from the Kingman Academy of Learning helped attorneys from the office practice their trial skills with a mock trial. In the fictional case, attorneys from the office portrayed both prosecutor and defense attorneys. Students from KAOL portrayed a bailiff, defendant and witnesses. Four adult volunteers from the Katheryn Heidenreich Adult Center sat in as a mock jury. Public Defender Dana Hlavac acted as a judge and moderator.

"We have a five-day 'Trial College' annually for our new attorneys who have passed the bar within the last year," Hlavac said. "We usually bring one or more instructors from other jurisdictions. This year we brought Maricopa County Public Defender's Office Training Director Dan Lowrance. He stays here the entire week of the five-day college and we essentially pay his costs. He comes up here and donates a week of his time and, in trade, I go down there and donate a week during his Trial College. His room and board probably adds up to around $1,000."

The case

The fictional case centered around a man accused of aggravated assault on a police officer. The man's sister had arrived on the scene of an accident where another brother was killed. The sister became emotional and an officer had to restrain her from entering the scene of the accident. At that time the defendant attempted to put the officer in a choke hold from behind. Another officer had to remove the defendant.

"The charge is aggravated assault on a police officer," Michael Wozniak, defense counsel, said. "That means the state has to prove the defendant intended to cause harm or insult to a police officer and that the police officer was acting in his official duty. We are arguing that the officer was not acting the way he is supposed to and our guy didn't intend to assault the officer but was trying to defend his sister."

Barbara Cook, defense co-counsel, said, "We are trying to make the jury understand that the defendant wasn't trying to hurt the police officer. It was a tough situation and he was trying to protect his little sister. He thought his sister was being choked."

"We were randomly assigned as to who would prosecute and who would defend," mock-prosecutor Kyle Kinkead said. "I am trying to do the best I can with the role I was assigned."

"It's a lot of fun," said Denise Abrams, co-counsel for the prosecution. "It is good to be able to practice your skills where it isn't such a serious setting. You can really learn. We are also being recorded so we can go back and perfect our skills that we have learned this week."

"It is very helpful to run through an exercise and put on all the skills we have learned," Kinkead said. "My interest is criminal law. Being able to be flexible in a case and put myself in the prosecutor's position helps me understand what that side may be thinking when looking at a case."

Four volunteers made up the mock jury: B.J. Osborne and Edna Dinwiddie from the adult center and Dave Douglas and Heidi O'Conner from the Public Defender's Office. All of them found the exercise interesting and vowed that they would volunteer again.

"I was here last year," Dinwiddie said. "It's so interesting. That's the reason I came back this year. It is very enlightening to see the procedures in the courtroom. The kids (Kingman Academy students) are doing great."

How the system works

"I'm a retired police officer and work as an investigator with the Public Defender's Office," Douglas said. "The training the attorneys are getting here is invaluable. It's great for the kids to see how the system works."

"I think it's wonderful," O'Conner, a paralegal with the Public Defender's Office, said. "It is good the high school students are here and it's good for the young attorneys."

Having the mock trial in the county is a significant cost savings, Hlavac said. "It would cost us about $24,000 to get the same training that we are getting right here for $1,000. It's a good deal economically for extremely good training for our young attorneys."

Hlavac said he really appreciated the professionalism from the KAOL drama students who volunteered to play a variety of parts.

Drama student Kaylee Mueller videotaped the trial for the defenders. Nancy Sujikado played the court bailiff. John Stemkowski played the defendant and Natalie Grimes portrayed his sister.

"We get extra credit for volunteering," Mueller said. "We jumped on this because we get to act."

"This is fun," Stemkowski said. "I hope they find me innocent."

After the conclusion of closing arguments, the outcome of the case was a "hung jury." Evidently, both sides presented their cases well.

Building blocks

"On day one of the college, we asked the young attorneys to come in and get started," Hlavac said. "We work all week on their skills - whether it is openings, closings, directs or cross examinations. They practice how to introduce exhibits, how to deal with experts, how to make objections and learn what the state of the law is and about the different kinds of hearings.

"As the week progresses, I see them getting stronger and stronger. We give them the fundamental building blocks that they can develop into very strong skills. By the end of the week, this (mock trial) gives them the chance to accumulate those skills with as close to a live situation as we can provide.

"Later, we will talk about the things they did well and the things they need to work on," he said. "This is an ongoing process. Like all skills, the learning process never ends."