On two dates in March 2020, the students of Maslon UPLIFT—diverse groups of seventh and eighth graders from Columbia Academy and St. Louis Park Middle School—presented criminal mock trials before actual Minnesota Judges, culminating their six-month legal institute experience. St. Louis Park Middle School UPLIFT students presented their mock trials at the University of Minnesota Law School on March 10, and Columbia Academy UPLIFT students presented their mock trials at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law on March 11.
1. UPLIFT Students From Columbia Academy During Trial
The Maslon UPLIFT student participants were assigned to teams representing either the prosecution or defense in the criminal case of State of Minnesota v. Coco St. Clair, a first degree murder case, in which the alleged murder occurred during the dress rehearsal of an original play. Maslon staff and attorney volunteers, including Cooper Ashley, John Duffey, Marty Fallon, Nicole Narotzky, Terry Newby, Julian Zebot, Nate Ajouri, Anna Barton, Clayton Carlson, Astrid Eglitis, Mary Heath, Jeremy Krahn, Kevin Rockwell, Mike Sheran, Rich Wilson and Alumni Casey Beckett, Wayne Moskowitz, and Laura Walvoord served as coaches. To lend authenticity to the experience, students presented their final trials before actual Hennepin County District Court Judges, including the Hon. Luis Bartolomei, the Hon. Rachna Sullivan, and the Hon. Mary Vasaly as well as retired Court of Appeals Judge Edward Toussaint.
2. St. Louis Park Students During Trial
Launched in September 2017, Maslon UPLIFT is a legal diversity pipeline program created to serve middle school students who reflect the rich diversity of the Twin Cities. The afterschool mock trial program is taught by volunteer attorneys, who have spent much of the academic year instructing students on key criminal law and practice concepts. To date, 105 middle school students have completed the UPLIFT program. Led by Catherine Ahlin-Halverson, Maslon Public Interest Counsel, the program offers students engaging opportunities to learn about the legal field, criminal justice, and the court system from volunteer attorneys.
"Minnesota has one of the largest achievement gaps between white students and students of color in the country," stated Catherine Ahlin-Halverson, director of Maslon UPLIFT. "It is critical that we find a path towards equitable educational opportunities for all students. That is why we founded Maslon UPLIFT—and seeing the engagement, enthusiasm, and achievement of our UPLIFT student participants is deeply gratifying.”
Catherine is a former Maslon partner who transitioned to the role of Public Interest Counsel in 2016 specifically to spearhead Maslon's mock trial program for local students and to serve as a mentor and leader across the firm's pro bono efforts overall. With more than 60 years dedicated to strengthening both the legal profession and the community, Maslon is proud to stand behind the mission and values of the UPLIFT program.