Students from Flagstaff Junior Academy poured into the county courthouse Friday, testing their legal skills in front of a judge to celebrate Law Day.
Students from FJA, Mount Elden Middle School and Coconino High School studied for weeks leading up to their opening arguments. The students worked on cases that included the First Amendment. Sebastian Gonzalez-Moore, an eighth grader at FJA who worked on the plaintiff’s case, said he was interested in becoming a lawyer one day, but chose to participate in the mock trial for one main reason.
“I like to be debate with people, to be honest. If I could do that for a living, that’d be great,” Gonzalez-Moore said.
The case Gonzalez-Moore and his peers chose to enact before Judge Ted Reed involved a man named Dave Smith, a social media coordinator, who argued that Facebook wrongly banned him from its platform for sharing his opinion, thus violating his right to speak freely. The defense argued that Facebook has a duty to its customers to protect them from threats on the platform.
The case also centered around a law Congress passed that attempted to stop cyber-bullying.
Every student in the courtroom was able to contribute during the trial. Multiple student lawyers questioned their peers, acting as witnesses for the case. Students also presented their opening statements and closing arguments to the jury.
“Objection!” One of the eighth-grade lawyers said as the plaintiffs attempted to place evidence on the record that contained Facebook’s terms and conditions. The defense objected to the attempt because it had not seen the document before trial.
Reed allowed them to enter the terms and conditions into evidence after it was determined that the defense had the opportunity to view the evidence after all.
Afterward, many students agreed the terms and conditions document was a critical piece of evidence to present to the judge and jury to help them understand the facts. Beatrice Heirigs, an eighth grader working for the defense, said the plaintiff kept bringing up first amendment rights in the civil case.
“It’s like, 'hey, actually, we don’t actually have to follow it because we’re a private company,' but they still kept on mentioning the first amendment,” Heirigs said.
Jason Bliss, an attorney for Flagstaff law firm Aspey, Watkins and Diesel, said he worked with the groups multiple times before Friday.
“It’s really impressive to see eighth graders reach this level of preparation,” Bliss said. “I think they did great.”
At the conclusion of the trial, a jury of fellow eighth graders agreed with the plaintiffs that Facebook had no right to ban Smith, although Reed disagreed and sided with the defense. While Reed disagreed with the law Congress had passed restricting the ability to speak freely on the internet, he decided that, in light of the law, Facebook was right to enact the ban.
He suggested that the first amendment argument might have more sway if they appealed his decision to a higher court.
Ron Kuzara, the class's teacher, said the jury’s decision in the case was not predetermined. Kuzara said he was proud of how prepared and composed the students were.
“The attorneys had to do a good job of composing reasonable points that were persuasive. I thought they did that, and thought the jury took that into account when they awarded the verdict to the prosecution,” he said.
Cassandra Reynolds, an eighth grader at FJA, said she wasn’t sure if she wanted to participate because of her fear of public speaking, but ended up joining the event.
“Once I got closer, I thought being a lawyer would be really, really fun. It would help me learn more about [the profession.] I’ve been leaning toward that way in college,” Reynolds said. “I love to argue with people and I love to prove my point, and my friends say you should be a lawyer.”