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Verdict is due today on law school competition



Published: Sat, February 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The national competition will be in Florida in April.

YOUNGSTOWN -- A man gets drunk at a local bar and is assaulted. He says the bar's bouncers beat him as they ushered him out of the tavern. He sues the bar and bar owner for damages.

The bar owner says the intoxicated man fell down and hit his head on the sidewalk while trying to strike one of the bouncers. No damages should be paid, the owner says.

Who do you believe?

That was the fictitious case presented this week at the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's trial team regional competition at the Mahoning County Courthouse, 120 Market St.

It is the second straight year Youngstown has hosted the three-day event, which began Thursday, said Atty. Kimberlee J. Kmetz, coordinator for the ATLA regional competition here.

Sixteen teams from 11 law schools in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky came to the courthouse, and one of the teams will emerge as the winner today.

Kmetz said the semifinals are this morning and the finals this afternoon. The University of Akron law school produced the national champion last year, and the school has two teams in this year's regional competition.

Preparation

Atty. Dave Toepfer, coach for the Akron teams, said the teams met every weekend for at least five weeks for practice from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The teams spend time fine-tuning what they wrote and working on their presentations, he said.

Kmetz said the coaches were impressed with the way the local common pleas court judges open their courtrooms to host the mock trials. She added local attorneys also give of their time to judge the event.

Teams are judged on their courtroom presentation and their preparation. Judges R. Scott Krichbaum, Maureen A. Cronin, James C. Evans and Probate Judge Timothy P. Maloney presided over the mock trials.

Attorneys sat in the jury box or near the bench to grade the participants.

Police chief

Youngstown Police Chief Bob Bush, who also is a lawyer, said, "You can see the efforts the students have put into their presentations. They were a little nervous at first, which is as it should be when you come into court, but once they got going they did fine."

Timothy G. Welsh, a common pleas court magistrate, said, "I was impressed with the preparation and the quality of work they've done. You could see how important this was to them, and the quality of their work shines through."

Adrienne Stemen, in her last year at the Akron law school, said the event "provided a real-world experience." She was a defense lawyer in the mock trial.

Megan Frantz, also in her last year at Akron, portrayed the bar owner. She said team members "pretty much gave up their social life" to participate.

Kmetz said regional competitions are usually held in larger cities throughout the country, but Youngstown got high marks because of the willingness of judges and attorneys to donate their time for the event.

Judge Cronin, who participated in the competition when she was at the Akron law school, said the event brought much-needed dollars to the county in the form of food purchases and lodging at county establishments. The event also afforded outsiders to the chance "enjoy this beautiful courthouse."

She added these types of events can continue to be advantageous for the county's economy, and she chastized county residents who voted down the half-percent sales tax levy last year.

"Those voters were short-sighted and not recognizing that other people from other states contribute to our community" when they spend their money here.

Kmetz has been a coach for 10 years, and this year she wrote the case that is being tried here and in the other 14 regions across the country.

The regional winners head to West Palm Beach, Fla., on April 7 for the national competition, she added.




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