The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey team weren’t the only ones getting ready for a trip to state competition last week.

The Cloquet High School mock trial team qualified for its own state tournament March 5-6 in St. Paul after a competition at the Stearns County Courthouse Feb. 14 in St. Cloud.

The Minnesota Mock Trial Program is overseen by the Minnesota State Bar Association and offers an opportunity for students to learn about the U.S. legal system. It also provides an opportunity for participants to improve their critical thinking and teamwork skills, according to the MSBA website.

Teams receive a sample case from the MSBA in mid-October each year. The case can be criminal or civil, and students prepare to argue both sides of the issue. While competitions provide the opportunity for students to look at the case from different perspectives, they won’t know until the day of the competition what side they will take.

Working on the team has taught the students how to look deeper into issues and how to build arguments and cases, said junior Benjamin Bauer.

“It’s not like arguing at home or with your friends,” Bauer said. “It’s structured, and you have to think on your feet in a different way.”

The Cloquet team has met nearly every school day during lunch since October in advisor Corinne Gornick-Heehn’s classroom. They are preparing for a case that could have been pulled from the case log at the Carlton County Courthouse.

A man was charged with third-degree murder after allegedly selling oxycodone to a person who died of an opioid overdose.

Cloquet High School students A.J. Maijala (left) and Ian Gunnelson examine evidence while working to prepare for the state mock trial competition March 5-6 in St. Paul. The mock trial team has met over lunch since October to get prepare their case. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal
Cloquet High School students A.J. Maijala (left) and Ian Gunnelson examine evidence while working to prepare for the state mock trial competition March 5-6 in St. Paul. The mock trial team has met over lunch since October to get prepare their case. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

“I’ve learned how complex trials with drugs can be,” junior A.J. Maijala said. “We have two expert witnesses arguing about medical inconsistencies.”

The expert witnesses — roles also filled by mock trial team members — disagree about whether the defendant could have provided the lethal dose of oxycodone because of the presence of acetaminophen in the victim’s system. Percocet — which contains both oxycodone and acetaminophen — could have caused the overdose, but was not sold by the defendant.

All 11 students on the team have received an in-depth look at the criminal justice system and at least one — senior Maddie Dostal — is considering going on to law school after college.