News-Herald Staff Writer

CADIZ – A battle over free speech played out on April 16 as an ongoing program brought a local classroom into the courtroom.

About 13 Harrison Central High School students in Devvon Dettra’s practical law class tested their legal mettle in a mock trial before county Common Pleas Juvenile-Probate Judge Matthew Puskarich using the First Amendment. The common pleas courtroom was the backdrop of the simulated civil case depicting the ramifications of a fictional 17-year-old student’s comments about a teacher on her Web blog.

The two-hour “trial” involved main players Jacquelyn Knight as Leslie, Cierra Brown and Michael Wilson as counsel for the plaintiff, Jake Kasarda and Darin Heavilin as counsel for the defendant and Samantha Moore as teacher G. Lee. The class is comprised of juniors and seniors.

The court heard testimony from both sides, including Leslie, Lee and their fellow witnesses, but the presentation did not end with a ruling. Instead, students are graded on preparation, presentation, professionalism and knowledge.

Dettra, who has taught the class for two years, considered possibly having students compete in the future.

“It’s an idea for the future. Other local schools do this,” he said. “They practice for 12 weeks and the first half of the year is studying the law and amendments. They get a basic understanding of the law in general.”

Puskarich worked with the students each Tuesday for two months to prepare for the event, which is provided through the Ohio Center for Law-Related Education. He was pleased with the outcome and said it gave pupils a different look about the law.

The class intends to re-enact the presentation for 135 eighth-grade Persuasive Speech students at Harrison Central Middle School, but the event has not yet been scheduled. Puskarich said it would be pared down to a 40-minute segment.