By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)February 20, 2018
COLUMBUS, Ga. (Feb. 20, 2018) -- In the courtroom, the judge requested "all rise," and as prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses, the accused and members of the jury rose, so too did the many high school spectators in one loud tumult.
A guidance counselor was quick to point out to the students in the auditorium they were not part of the mock trial courtroom on stage and did not need to stand.
The mock trial, which took place at William H. Spencer High School in Columbus, Georgia, near the main and Benning Road entrances of Fort Benning Feb. 9, is part of a new partnership between the high school and the Direct Commissioning Course of the Officer Candidate School.
The DCC is a program to commission law school graduates as officers so they can serve the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General. The candidates are in the course to learn how to be Army officers. The six-week course takes place three times a year -- winter, summer and autumn -- after which they receive training specifically for their career as lawyers in the Army.
The mock trial was the second day of the partnership. Candidates in the DCC talked to several classes of seniors in the school about what a career in law or military law entails Feb. 5. Then on Feb. 9, some of the students interested in a career in law or military law took part in the mock trial.
"Having my students go out and talk the benefits of law school, the benefits of a career after law school, I think will be really helpful for Spencer High School," said Capt. Eric Norgard, company commander of the DCC. "This is not intended to be a recruiting pitch for the Army but rather for careers in law."
Norgard said many of the high school students were already planning to join the military after graduation, so they also learned what programs they can take part in while in the military to get into law school.
In addition to coordinating the partnership, Norgard also stood accused of stealing a bag of M&Ms from a convenience store as part of the mock trial. During the program, the spectators learned some of the particulars of a trial: opening arguments, witness examinations, cross-examination, redirect examinations, and recross-examinations.
Staff of Spencer High School met the idea of a partnership program with enthusiasm. Dr. Michelle Sanchez, the guidance counselor, said this program can give students a perspective on a career field they may not have considered.
"It's going to give them a birds-eye view of the judicial system," said Sanchez. "This gives them a chance to see the positive aspects of the legal system and a better understanding of it."
One of the high school seniors, My'Kisha Raymond, who is also a member of the school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, already has aspirations of becoming a judge within the Marine Corps. During the mock trial, Raymond took part of defense team.
"I enjoyed it because I always wanted to be defense attorney," said Raymond.
Raymond thought other students might benefit from the partnership program as well.
"If they're really good, if they believe they can be a lawyer, or a defense attorney, or a judge, then they should do it," she said. "It's really a good career for them to choose."
The commandant of the Officer Candidate School, Lt. Col. Matt Chitty, was on hand for the event.
"If we can get them thinking about it, about what they want to get into college," said Chitty, "and if they want to go to law school, these are the people they want to talk to."
Chitty also expressed a desire for the program to continue.
"We have three classes a year," said Chitty. "One of them occurs over the summer when there are no [high school] students. But we have one in the fall, and we have this one during the winter and early spring. So we want to keep this up, at least kind of show students what a career choice in law looks like."
"I envision it to be a situation in which they become our partners," said Sanchez of the DCC. "I'm hoping that they come back, and every time they have a cycle, they'll bring them back in."
"Hopefully this experience kind of plants the seeds for them to really think about what opportunities are out there after school," said Norgard. "We hope that this experience inspires those students."
At the conclusion of the mock trial, Norgard was found not guilty.