February 25, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande High Schools legal eagles have yet to land.

The schools mock trial teams were a dominant force at the regional trial competition Saturday in Pendleton. In mock trial competition, schools are not divided according to size.

The schools Blue and White teams dominated the tournament with supreme-court like authority, claiming the top two berths. Both qualified for the state mock trial tournament.

The announcement of the results in Pendleton was greeted with emotion by the team members.

They screamed, applauded and hugged each other. A couple of the coaches shed a tear, said LHS mock trial team coach Darla Sunderman.

The final standings of the tournament have not been released. It is not yet known which La Grande High School team won and which placed second.

What is known is that LHS will be sending two teams to state for at least the fourth year in a row. The state tournament will be conducted March 15-16 in Portlands Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.

LHSs teams placed fifth and 10th at state last year.

Junior Laura Graham, a member of the 2001 team, is anxious to return.

It will be a lot more fun because the pressure will be off since we have made it to state, Graham said. We will experience the rewards of just being there. To be with teams of that caliber is great.

Reaching state this year is particularly meaningful because of some problems the teams had to overcome. Less than a month before regionals it was announced that the tournament would be conducted a week earlier than originally planned.

The change cost LHS two team members because of schedule conflicts. A lot of last-minute reshuffling had to be done.

Challenging case

A civil case was used at regionals. It involved a mother who sued an amusement company because her son had been killed in a roller coaster accident.

The case was challenging because it relied heavily on witness testimony, some of which was contradictory, said LHS mock trial team member Chris Potter.

Assistant coach Nathan Akers said La Grandes students did an excellent job of objecting and responding to objections in the case.

They made the judges stay focused. They kept them on their toes, Akers said.

In addition to Akers and Sunderman, those who helped prepare the mock trial team for competition included Janie Burcart, Union Countys chief deputy district attorney; Brett Brownscombe, a La Grande lawyer; and Brian Dretke, a lawyer in Union and Umatilla counties.

Six teams competed at regionals. La Grande and Baker high schools sent two squads, and Hermiston and Pendleton high schools each had one.

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