Teen Court is astoundingly real in every way. The courtroom is the playing field for defense and prosecuting attorneys, defendants, a presiding judge, jurors, a jury box, witnesses, a witness stand, and room for observers to watch the proceedings. A Harker Heights city marshal serves as the bailiff.
The practice courtroom for the Harker Heights High School Teen Court was set up in the Kitty Young Council Chambers at City Hall and was the location for the second annual Harker Heights Teen Court Competition on May 2.
Harker Heights Municipal Court Judge Billy Ray Hall Jr., the coordinator of Teen Court, said, “The reception to our invitation from the neighboring cities of Killeen, Belton and Copperas Cove to join Harker Heights in this endeavor created a very positive environment to operate in.”
The inaugural Teen Court Competition last year pitted the Harker Heights team against students from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
The Teen Court Competition combined defense and prosecution attorneys, police department witnesses, four students who were on trial for actual misdemeanor crimes, and volunteer student jurors. The presiding judge was Judge Billy Ray Hall Jr.
In the final case, Teen Judge Andrew Brown, a student at New Tech High in Belton and the recipient of the Garland Potvin Award, served as the presiding judge.
Adding to the significance of the contest were guest lawyers, judges and others in the legal profession who judged the performance of the attorneys throughout the competition.
Two of the judges were former participants in the Heights Teen Court. One was Chase Louette, a U.S. JAG Attorney, who the day before the competition was sworn in as a licensed attorney. The other is Jordan Pender, also a past member of the Heights Teen Court and a second-year student at Baylor Law School.
Pender is from Belton but was a part of the Heights Teen Court.
Other dignitaries on the panel were Assistant Bell County Attorney Jim Murphy; Dr. W.R. Mack, a professor at Central Texas College; District Attorney Dusty Boyd, chief prosecutor for Coryell County; Judge Lisa Kubala, alternate municipal court judge for the City of Copperas Cove; Tony Kosta, retired municipal court judge;, Garland Potvin, alternate municipal judge in Harker Heights; Joel Loua, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and a champion in the Heights Teen Court Competition last year; and Judge Mark Kimball, presiding municipal judge for the City of Killeen.
The teams of attorneys included Victoria Williams and Adrian Felix — Harker Heights defense attorneys; Ian Hall and Steven Bassett — Belton prosecution attorneys; C.J. Jones and Jacob Samarripa — Heights defense attorneys, Ethan Dean and Andrew Brown — Copperas Cove prosecution attorneys; Caden Emilson and Erica Halpa — Killeen defense attorneys; and Joseph Ung and Anthony Jones — Heights prosecution attorneys.
Offenses considered in court were: affixing color/light altering material to a windshield window, theft of $200, driving 45 mph in a 30 mph zone, and speeding 45 mph in a 25 mph school zone.
Sentences handed down by the Teen Court juries at the contest:
(1) Affixing color/light-altering material to windshield — six hours of community service.
(2) Theft of $200 — 25 hours of community service in addition to writing a 250-word essay on “Why Stealing is Bad.”
(3) Driving 45 mph in a 30 mph zone-20 hours of community service.
(4) Speeding in a school zone: 45 mph in a 25 mph zone — 35 hours of community service.
The prosecution team of Joseph Ung and Anthony Jones from Harker Heights swept the contest with the most awards, and that included Overall Champions.
Their four other awards were Best Legal Analysis, Best Persuasiveness, Best Case Demeanor and Best Prosecution Team.
The defense team of Caden Emilson and Erika Halpa of Killeen won wards for Best Responsiveness to Questions and were runners up for the Overall Champion award.
The Harker Heights defense team of C.J. Jones and Jacob Samarripa won the Best Organization and Reasoning award.
The Best Defense Team and Best Knowledge of Record awards went to Victoria Williams and Adrian Felix of Harker Heights.
Anthony Jones, who attends Belton High School but joined a Harker Heights prosecution team, talked about his and Joseph Ung’s success, saying, “Confidence and trusting my teammate were the key. I relied on Joseph by knowing that he had as much skill as me and probably more.”
Ung said,” Communication was the deciding factor. Anthony and I talked endlessly about what we should do, future plans and solutions to any problems we had.”
Jones told the Herald that he would attend Texas A&M University, get a degree in economics and then proceed to law school.
Ung said, “I’m actually not going to pursue law as a career and my story is rather funny.
“The only reason I’m here is because I was pulled over and got a ticket, then got into Teen Court because I thought it was interesting and stuck with it.”