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High school students participate in civil court as jurors
Lawyers John Pirkle and Jeff Osteen-1
Local attorneys John Pirkle and Jeff Osteen confer prior to the start of a mock civil trial in which 85 Liberty County High Schools students participated as jurors. - photo by Randy C.Murray

Eighty-five Liberty County High School students were sworn in as jurors Wednesday afternoon as they participated in a mock civil trial.

The trial was presided over by Superior Court Judge Leon Braun Jr. with local attorneys John Pirkle and Jeff Osteen playing the roles of plaintiff and defense attorneys, respectively.

“These students were from our American-government classes,” LCHS Assistant Principal John Ryan said. “All but one were seniors. I think it really helps them connect what they learn in the classroom with the real world and shows them how our laws are enforced in the courtroom.

“We’re charged with teaching them real-life skills. One day, many of our students can expect to be called to serve on a jury. (The mock trial) helped them understand the important responsibility of serving as a juror.”

Pirkle, who facilitated the mock trial, said he supports high-school students taking part in mock trials to teach them about the state’s judicial system. He said a similar number of Bradwell Institute students participated in a mock trial that morning.

As a way of keeping the serious subject matter interesting for students, he said they added a little humor to the case between Blameless WhiplashVictim and TextingWhileDriving RanStoplight. Pirkle’s client was suing Osteen’s client for about $35,000 in medical costs and damages as well as $149,000 for pain and suffering caused by his injuries.

Prior to the case being tried, the students first heard about the duties of the officers of the court, the difference between a civil trial and criminal trial and the trial process itself.

Pirkle, whose legal career goes back 40 years, started this lengthy explanation by talking about the role of Sheriff Steve Sikes as the county’s chief law-enforcement officer.

Superior Court Clerk Barry Wilkes then discussed his duties as clerk of court and court administrator, as well as those of the bailiff. He also explained the process of jury selection. Braun added an explanation about the typical number of jurors being six or 12, depending on whether the case was a civil or criminal trial.

Pirkle inserted another difference between the two types of trials was the decisions jurors make, based on the evidence presented. In a criminal trial, he said there has to be no reasonable doubt, but in a civil trial, a simple “preponderance of evidence” was sufficient.

Pirkle and Braun spoke directly to the students about another court position — court reporter, which they said is a very important position but one in short supply.

Osteen, who also is the state court solicitor, talked about his role as attorney for the defendant is this case. He said as an officer of the court, his job is to ensure the trial is conducted fairly. He admitted, though, he would try to tilt the odds in his favor during jury selection by ruling out potential jurors who might be unsympathetic to his client. And though his client was admitting responsibility for causing the accident, he said he would try to get the jury to believe the plaintiff was not as injured as he claimed so they would not award excessive damages.

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