From the Multnomah Lawyer: Panner Inn and Jefferson High School Mock Trial Team Knock Down Barriers and the Competition

The Owen M. Panner Inn of Court in Portland is proud to report that its increased financial sponsorship of a local urban mock trial team has helped transform the team into a statewide competitor. The program had humble beginnings and several hurdles to overcome. Jefferson High School pulls its students from a generally lower socioeconomic neighborhood than the other top mock trial teams in the Portland area. Also, none of the students on the team have lawyers for parents while many other teams are coached by lawyer-parents. Many of the students work or have the responsibility of caring for younger siblings in addition to participating in mock trial. And because Jefferson High School does not offer mock trial as a class, practices are not every day, but once a week in the evening. Indeed, when the program started in the early 2000s, there were times when it was difficult to cobble together even eight students to participate.

But the tide began to turn when the Owen M. Panner Inn of Court began funding Jefferson Mock Trial. About five years ago, the inn began providing a budget that allowed the students to have a pizza dinner while practicing mock trial. It also allowed the students to participate in an annual overnight trip to the even though Portland is only 80 miles from the coast. Word spread fast throughout the high school that mock trial was a fun activity and soon the number of participants increased, as did the team’s success. 

This past 2018-19 season, we are proud to report that we had more than 40 students participate and fielded three teams at the regional competition. Moreover, one of the teams advanced to the state competition for the third time in four years. The team performed admirably at state - it won its first round, losing only in a power match in the second round to the team that eventually won the entire state title.

One team member, Mekdes Hilete, is a great example of the Jefferson students who participate on the mock trial team. Mekdes came to the United States from Ethiopia in 2016, when she was in the eighth grade. At first, she struggled to acclimate to middle school and high school in a different country. But she found her way to the Jefferson Mock Trial team as a freshman and has been a standout since then. Now a junior, she earned a perfect 10 on her closing statement at the regional competition - an incredibly difficult feat for any student, let alone one whose first language is not English. Mekdes was a key part of a very strong team that led Jefferson High School to the state competition. Other mock trial alumna are pursuing promising college careers: Sekai Edwards is at Julliard in New York City, Sidne Gregory is at MIT in Boston, and Alyssa Bailey attends American University in Washington, DC. Alyssa was also awarded a prestigious and competitive scholarship from the Classroom Law Project for her participation in mock trial, which contributed $10,000 toward her education costs. The exponential growth of the team, both in size and success, is directly correlated with the increase in financial support by the Owen M. Panner Inn of Court. By providing coaches and financial support to the team, the Owen M. Panner Inn of Court seeks to instill the values of professionalism, community service, and integrity into the young adults at Jefferson High School. Working with these students has been extremely rewarding and the Inn is proud to sponsor them.

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