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March 16, 2004

Deaf students compete in mock trial contest

From: Appleton Post Crescent - Appleton,WI,USA - Mar 16, 2004

The Associated Press

MADISON — Matthew Goeb's objection brought a courtroom contest for high school students to a halt, without the teen ever speaking a word.

Goeb, 17, was one of a half-dozen deaf students on a team called the Firebirds who competed in the semifinal round of the State Bar of Wisconsin's mock trial competition over the weekend.

The team of students from the Wisconsin School for the Deaf in Delavan was one of 15 teams out of 180 statewide to reach the semifinal round Sunday.

The students, who had never before competed in the contest, used translators to help convey their arguments.

The Firebirds took up the mock defense of a woman accused of murder. Their opponents, students from Brookfield Academy near Milwaukee, acted as the prosecution.

During the day, the student teams faced other opponents and played both defense and prosecution.

Firebirds coach Christopher Hanewicz, a trial lawyer who does not know sign language, worked with the team for five months using translators paid by his law firm.

In a mock trial, the court does not return a verdict but decides which side best argued the case.

The Firebirds did not advance to Monday's final round after completing Sunday's competition with two wins and two losses.

Hanewicz said the contest's real value was in persuading the students that the legal system is a place where the deaf can feel at ease and find success.

"I want to have these kids, like hearing kids, feel like becoming a lawyer is an option for them," Hanewicz said.

Goeb, who was born deaf, said he did not feel at a disadvantage, even though he thought certain factors worked against him, like the lack of many legal terms in American Sign Language.

Hanewicz said working with the students has made him a better litigator after seeing how the teens used facial expressions and striking signs to express their thoughts.

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