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Mock Trial teams prepare for competitions

The Mock Trial team at Owatonna High School has already spent many hours preparing for their upcoming competition at the Steele County Courthouse in January. (Photo courtesy of Andres Contreras)

More than a dozen Owatonna High School students have begun preparing for this year’s Mock Trial. For nearly four decades, the Minnesota State Bar Association in partnership with the Mock Trial Advisory Committee have been putting on the MSBA High School Mock Trial Program.

The students will take on the role of attorneys, witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants. Hundreds of pages of court documents, affidavits, evidence and rules are provided with the students, according to Laura Eplan, Mock Trial advisor and OHS social studies teacher.

“Every participating team spends weeks or months piecing together evidence in order to prove both sides of the case,” Epland said. “We have two Owatonna Mock Trial teams this year. Each team works the case from both sides.”

Lileigh Nguyen is one of three captains this year. She said she first became interested in Mock Trial when she was a freshman because she found the group unique and enjoyed the aspects of working together as a team with her fellow students to develop a strategy to “win” the case.

“There isn’t anything else like it,” she said. “I love how versatile the roles can be, and it is so much fun to test our arguments and lines of questions against teammates. The community we build as we work through the case is what I enjoy most.”

Captain Riddhi Bhakta aspires to go to law school and become a lawyer following graduation, which is one reason why Mock Trial was of particular interest.

“I love working with others on the tea. I love how we just get along and are able to ask each other questions all the time,” Bhakta said. “I have been on the team for two years now.”

Kinzie Carlson is also a captain this year. She said she has been interested in crime and law from a young age, and was excited to find her high school had a Mock Trial team.

“Turns out it is really fun. This is my fourth year on the team and second year as a captain,” Carlson said. “I love when everything fits together during our case prepwork. We spend hours as a team sorting through evidence, potential arguments and thematic potentials. When we finally see our case, it is really rewarding.”

This year’s fictional case is a civil matter where Jamie Morton, a former college swimmer, is alleging his physician Dr. Ramidus is guilty of medical negligence or malpractice by not meeting the standard of care during an ACL surgery.

Morton alleges that Ramidus did not use the more effective kind of graft survey and also placed the graft in the wrong angle. Ramidus, however, defends the surgery, saying the standard of care was met and it was more likely that Morton is responsible for the second ACL tear that resulted in his loss of a swimming career and scholarship.

All mock trial teams from around the state will work with this case for the season.

Local attorney Joel Eaton has acted as the team’s attorney advisor for going on seven years. He said he had judged several Mock Trial competitions before being asked to join as an advisor.

“They’re tremendous kids,” he said. “It’s rewarding for me to participate because in my opinion they are good, thoughtful and intelligent kids. It’s rewarding to see them grow and learn and for me it’s great to be able to add to their high school experience with something unique.”

The team’s first official scrimmage doesn’t take place until January, and the first real competition will occur at the Steele County Courthouse on Jan. 13. For the next several weeks, the team will be hard at work preparing and perfecting their presentation of the case.

“When the official rounds begin in January, schools from Minnesota face off against each other in a trial setting. One team is assigned to be the plaintiff/prosecution and the other is assigned to be the defense. With students acting as attorneys and witnesses, Mock Trial plays out like a real trial — with a judge and everything,” Epland said. “It is a very exciting activity that not only helps students learn about the legal system, but also helps students develop reading, writing, argumentation, collaboration, speech, and critical thinking skills.”

Epland and the teams are especially excited this season because they will finally be able to compete in-person. The past two seasons were conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering restrictions at courthouses.

Steele County included in state broadband investment

Governor Tim Walz announced Thursday that internet providers will receive nearly $100 million to expand broadband coverage to more Minnesotans, representing the largest single investment in broadband infrastructure in state history.

Nearly $100 million has been committed through the Border-to-Border Broadband program to help expand broadband coverage to more than 33,000 homes in Minnesota. Among those areas positively impacted by the grant program is Steele County. (File photo/

Of the $100 million investment, which will expand access to over 33,000 across the state, Steele County will receive $158,052 through Spectrum Mid-America, LLC managed by Charter Communications Inc.

“This historic funding will dramatically improve broadband access for thousands of Minnesotans,” Walz said in a press release. “Broadband connects students to new educational opportunities, provides workers with more flexibility, expands access to healthcare resources and information, and helps us stay connected to the people who matter most. This investment is essential to making Minnesota the best state to live, work, and raise a family — no matter where you live.”

In total, 61 broadband expansion projects around Minnesota will receive $99.6 million in grants from the Border-to-Border Broadband program administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED)’s Office of Broadband Development. Provider grantees estimate the funding will extend new high-speed internet connections to more than 33,000 Minnesota homes and businesses in 48 counties. A list of grant awards by project can be found below, or on DEED’s website.

“Broadband is the plumbing of the twenty-first century – without it, businesses and households can’t participate in today’s economy,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “We’re proud to work with broadband providers and offer these historic grants that will empower more growth and more equity in our state.”

The new grants represent a significant acceleration of the Border-to-Border Program: Before today, DEED had provided nearly $130 million in Border-to-Border grants to connect more than 57,000 homes and businesses around Minnesota to high-speed internet since the program’s inception in 2014.

Broadband expansion is a key goal of the Walz-Flanagan Administration. Earlier this year, the Governor’s Council on Economic Expansion named universal affordable broadband access as one of its priorities for expanding the state’s economy. The council recommended that state government:

Ensure every child has access to the internet, appropriate hardware, training and online learning;

Provide affordable access to broadband internet, appropriate hardware, and training for every person in Minnesota to expand digital equity and access to government services, health care, jobs, community resources, and social connection; and

Drive economic competitiveness for Minnesota and enable communities throughout the State to attract and retain residents and businesses by providing affordable broadband access.

This week’s investment includes funding primarily from two sources – half of a $50 million appropriation from the state Legislature signed into law this year by Walz, and $70 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

The grant maximum is $5 million per project, and grant funds may be used to reimburse up to 50 percent of a grantee’s eligible costs of deploying broadband infrastructure. Projects must meet or exceed the State’s 2026 broadband speed goal of 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload.

Next round of funding opening soon

DEED will soon launch a new Border-to-Border Request for Proposals (RFP) to award $67.6 million for broadband deployment ($25 million from the Legislature and $42.6 million in federal funding). RFP applications will be open on or around December 19, 2022.

“We’re excited to continue expanding our reach and help more Minnesotans access high-speed broadband,” said Bree Maki, Executive Director of the DEED Office of Broadband Development. “DEED, broadband providers, and Minnesota communities continue to learn how to best leverage federal, state, local, and private resources in complementary ways to expand broadband services. We encourage providers that weren’t funded today to apply for our next grant round so we can continue working together to serve Minnesotans.”