Clayton Judge Reflects on Mock Trial Successes

By Michelle Barclay, Division Director, Communications, Children, Families and the Courts

Michelle Barclay, Division Director, Communications, Children, Families and the Courts, spoke recently with Chief Judge John C. Carbo, III, State Court of Clayton County, of his role with the Joneboro High School Mock Trial Team.

Michelle Barclay:  Tell me a little about your career path in being a lawyer and eventually a judge.  Did you always want to be a lawyer?
Judge John Carbo: My dad went to law school later in life.  At one point, my father was the Chief federal probation officer in the Northern District. He retired and went back to law school and he practiced law for the remainder of his working life.  I was about 10 years old when he went back to law school which influenced me.  It created my first desire that in me that reflected what I wanted to do.
MB:  How did you become a judge?
Judge Carbo: I practiced law in private practice for four years after getting out of law school.  The person who was holding the position of solicitor of the state court resigned because the position was changed to a full time position.  I put my name into the appointment pool and was appointed by Governor Joe Frank Harris.  I had planned to eventually go back to private practice but several years later there was an opening for a state court judgeship so I put in for that position as well and Governor Harris appointed me to that position as well in 1988.  Of course, I think Governor Harris is the greatest governor of all time. 
MB:  Let’s talk about a little about the mock trial team. 
altJudge Carbo: The program has been around for about 30 years.  A group of high school teachers in Clayton County are the roots for the entire program for the state.  It became a partnership with the State Bar.  I volunteered to be a judge during a state bar competition a few times, but got involved with the coaching side of the program in 2000 when my daughter participated.  I got hooked and I have been a coach now for 17 years. 
MB:  How many students do you think have benefited from this experience? 
Judge Carbo: Normally, we have from 14 to 16 students involved in the program, so a couple hundred at the least.  It is a great experience for the students even if they do not become lawyers, it gives them skills for a lifetime. 
MB:  Do you have a good story of a student who really had incredible gains while in the program?
Judge Carbo: Quite a few.  Some kids are obviously fast-track kids, on the path to uber-success.  But we have had others in our program who probably would not have gone to college had they not gotten the exposure to this level of argument and had not been challenged to step up to the next level academically for all sorts of reasons.  When the students shine, doors open to them that may have not appeared open before.  We are especially proud of those students.
I got a letter from a mother of a young woman who was once part of our team.  The young woman ended up graduating from college at Texas A&M.  Her mother’s letter was thanking me and saying that I was a very positive male role model for her and it really helped her daughter.
MB:  Did the loss of accreditation of the Clayton County schools affect you at all?
Judge Carbo: Yes and no.  We had just won the national Mock trial competition, actually back to back years.  2007 and 2008.   The day that we were being honored in 2009 for our 2008 win with a House and Senate Resolutions, and we were heading as a team down the capitol for that reason, we got word that the accreditation was lost.  Governor Sonny Perdue was also recognizing us, but the media coverage was just ironic because we were there for this national academic achievement on the same day the school system lost its accreditation. And several media stories reflected that.
Even though it was devastating news, we did not lose any students because of it and in fact it gave us extra motivation to keep working through that and we still had a lot of success in the years that followed.
MB:  You spend a lot of time on this.  Tuesday evening, Thursday, and Sunday afternoons.  Is that normal?
Judge Carbo: State competition starts in October. Case is published in October.  The first Region competitions are in February and, District competition are at the end of February. Eight district winners go to the state competition in March.  Then the state champion goes on the national competition in May. 

So depending on well our team performs, we practice from October to May.  However, our team has been getting invited to a separate invitational competition, called the Empire Mock Trial Competition which started in NYC. It is both a national and international competition. The Empire program expanded this year for the first time in Atlanta.  So we competed there and we won, by the way.  The invitational competitions can take us all the way to June.  So our “season” for practice has gotten longer.  This means that we have to maintain a standard or culture of excellence and the students make a solid commitment to the program and students are drawn to it.  We make clear what the expectations are in the beginning of the year.

MB:  My closing question, this program takes a lot of your time outside of your full time job and your family.  What is your motivation for doing this?
Judge Carbo: Because I love it.  It is a great opportunity for me.  I talked about my father, but my mother was a teacher for 30 years and she has a big influence on me as well.   I enjoy teaching.  I enjoy working with motivated, dedicated students.  There are other very good coaches that I work with, our faculty advisors are so good.  It is very fun.  It is good for me too.  It keeps my head in the game.  It helps me stay current on all the rules of evidence.  I had no problem when Georgia moved to the Federal rules since that is what we use for mock trial.  I offered to have my 10th graders teach the rules to anyone who needed it.  I am giving back with this but I benefit greatly as well.  It keeps me young.  If my view of young people was just from the bench, I worry that my view could be skewed negatively.  My experience with this program helps me stay balanced.  There are tons of great kids who love to work, love to learn and will soak up whatever you give them.

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