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June 24, 2017

Mock Trial Students Tackle Fracking


The LAB Mock Trial team, left to right: back row, Grant Shelton, Davis Osborn, Carson Wheeler, Ian Crum. Middle row, Angela Hilliard, Chandler Goley, Betty White, Erika Olsen, Remi Wile, Mason Thornhill. Front row: Kiley Chambers and Thomas Blalock

You can learn a lot about earthquakes, hydraulic fracking/injection wells and the Oklahoma Spirit from some local high school students.

A team of home-educators from the Luther Academic Barn competed in a state-wide mock trial program sponsored by the Oklahoma Bar Association. At the Federal Courthouse Tuesday, the Luther team matched wits and preparation against teams from Stillwater and McAlester.

Ripped from the headlines, this year’s case involved a liabel lawsuit filed against a made-up energy company by a fictitious Oklahoma town after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake shook the town to its foundation. Hydraulic fracking and injection wells were the cause, according to the lawsuit.

As the case unfolded, the student attorneys weaved a story, either refuting or proving the allegations through their expert witnesses and hometown heroes, including a cafe owner who serves “the best chicken fried steak around!” It was true, because he said it under oath.

Remi Wile, Betty White, Erika Olsen: part of the LAB Mock Trial Team

The students, ages 14 – 16, convincingly spoke about sub-surface slippage, tectonic plates, seismic activity and geological studies. One student even referenced Copernicus in his opening statement. After all, the Renaissance astronomer had trouble getting anyone to believe his finding that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Science nor technology is finite.

The team also convincingly conveyed nuances about small towns such as the reliance on local employers and philanthropists, and the aftermath of a massive disaster to property, business and even emotions.

In addition, the team knew when to object, when to say “Your Honor” and how to comply with the many rules of the mock trial. It was the result of their many weeks of preparation, led by their coach, Angela Hilliard.

It was a refreshing way to spend a day, even though phones were not allowed to take pictures in the posh courtroom. After the plaintiff and the defense rested their cases, volunteer attorneys who played the judge and the jury critiqued the teams. The critiques were heavy on encouragement and praise for the students’ hard work, poise, knowledge of the issues and courage.

The mock trial is designed to help hone students’ skills in public speaking, reasoning, comprehension, rhetoric and acting while learning more about the American justice system.

By the way, there was no definitive answer on the controversial issue of whether hydraulic fracking/injection wells cause earthquakes. The jury is still out on that one.

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