Jonesboro’s mock trial team heads to state

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Jonesboro High School’s mock trial team, with teacher and attorney coaches, after Saturday’s regional win. The team moves on to state competition in five weeks.

Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Jonesboro High School’s mock trial team, with teacher and attorney coaches, after Saturday’s regional win. The team moves on to state competition in five weeks.

Katie Powers lacked direction as a Jonesboro High School student, until her friends convinced her to join them on the mock trial team. "This is what cemented my career choice," she said. "It's why I became a lawyer."

Powers was on the team in 2001 and 2002, the year Jonesboro won a state championship. Then-Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracy Graham Lawson judged the first round of Powers' competition.

Powers has come full circle as one of the attorney-coaches for the Jonesboro team, and was in the trenches, Saturday, at the Clayton County Courthouse as the students won the regional title over Riverdale. The 17-member Jonesboro team will compete for the state championship in March, in Lawrenceville.

Powers coaches the team with her former coach, Clayton State Court Judge John Carbo, Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield, and State Court Solicitor General Tasha Mosley. Anna and Andrew Cox are the team's teacher-coaches.

"I'm so proud of how much they prepared, and how they performed," said Powers.

The team is composed of members of the Judicial Club, which kicks off every year in September. Members audition for the team, which is formed Nov. 1. The intense training and practice for regionals start then. Each member plays a courtroom role, from prosecutor to defense attorney, witness to defendant.

Mosley said she enjoys the educational aspect of coaching the students. "It's fun and I love educating kids," she said Saturday. "Even the pain and agony of losing is still good, because you know they are learning. We're molding future leaders of Georgia, and of America. I'm always impressed. They have great poise in the courtrooms, and some know better than some lawyers I've seen."

Benefield got involved when her daughter joined the Jonesboro team about six years ago. "The competition is not staged or memorized, so their reactions are real," said Benefield. "When something crazy is going to happen, you have to think on your feel. And don't sweat while you're doing it. It's an art, really, and you have to have fire in your belly. If you don't, you are leaving it to chance.”

Benefield was thrilled to see the team take regional honors, Saturday. There is pride in the title, bragging rights, but Benefield thinks there is much more to winning. "Clayton County takes such a bad rap," said Benefield. "People don't realize there is so much good here. This is a great way to showcase it. We have a lot of smart kids, and it's exciting to see them grow and continue to come back, year after year. They work hard and have fun."

In between rounds, Saturday, individual team members were recognized for outstanding performances during competition. Jonesboro students, Jezreel Amica, Callie Christian and Attallah Ali, were among those honored. None of them has decided on a career in law, though.

"I haven't decided, yet," said Amica, 16, and a senior. "But I'm good at mock trial, so I'm definitely looking at law. I am ecstatic that we won, but I felt like it was going to happen. I'm looking at nationals, I've set my goal to win it."

Christian, 16, and a junior, wants to go into law enforcement. "I'm very proud of us," she said. "State competition is so much fun. I've definitely learned good speaking skills and how to react during certain situations in a good manner."

Ali, who just learned she is the STAR student for Jonesboro High, said being on the team has helped her become more articulate, a skill she can use in any career. "I've learned to present myself and not be distracted," said Ali, 17. "I know I can keep focused."

Powers, of course, did pursue a career in law, graduating from Mercer University’s Walter F. Georgia School of Law in Macon. She passed the Georgia bar in August 2009, and was promptly hired by Lawson, who was elected Clayton County District Attorney in 2008.

In 2010 and 2011, Powers won Lawson's award for Assistant District Attorney of the Year. She says she owes a lot of her success to her two years with the Jonesboro mock trial team.

"My training from this, and from John Carbo to be more specific –– he was my coach," she said Saturday, running a lint roller across the black suit of a mock attorney. "I think that was better training than law school provides."