COLUMBUS — Addressing a packed courtroom Tuesday, Platte County Attorney Carl Hart presented an indictment against Columbus High School junior Maddy McClure, the primary suspect in a vandalism incident that left Humphrey High School junior Micky Osten’s car defaced.
“You’re aware of how many hours of detasseling it took Mr. Osten to save up to get this car?” Hart asked McClure but speaking to a jury of her peers, three young men whose attention appeared neatly divided between the drama of the courtroom and figuring out how far the jurors’ office chairs lean back.
The mock trial was part of Hart’s presentation on how his office works, which was delivered to 53 high school students from Columbus, Humphrey and Lakeview high schools visiting the Platte County Courthouse for County Government Day.
To get a spot on the field trip, some students had to be elected by their peers to a county position, and McClure had been chosen to serve as the county clerk. But for the moment, she played a defendant accused of spray painting the car driven by Osten, her boyfriend in this make believe mock-up. The dispute was used to show the details of how Platte County lays down the law.
Naming the list of rights McClure has as the accused, Public Defender Tim Matas asked if McClure wished to have an attorney.
“Can you afford an attorney,” he asked the alleged vandal, to which she said yes. “You can? Who are you going to hire?”
“Can I just pick somebody?” McClure asked, looking back to the audience scanning the courtroom for a willing soul.
“No,” Matas said over laughter, appointing himself to defend McClure.
Further discussion revealed Osten’s evidence against McClure was — at best — inconclusive with no eye witnesses and shaky details. Osten’s character was also compromised because of his unscrupulous doings involving bar outings and infidelities.
The trial ultimately resulted in a hung jury that reconvened once more after learning what a hung jury is, delivering a unanimous verdict: not guilty.
McClure was acquitted prompting applause before the group moved on to tour the rest of the courthouse.
Josh Gasper, a Columbus High School junior elected by his classmates to serve as public defender, said he considered County Government Day a success.
“Things like this are cool because, you know, you’re out of school, but you also get to see how everything works,” he said.
Gasper said he was unaware of the finer details of local government like district and county court proceedings or what it meant to be a public defender.
He added that some of the more nuanced parts of county government were easier to grasp because having his friends around made him more at ease and mitigated the awkwardness of being addressed by adults in suits with inconceivably perplexing titles.
Columbus High School junior Ryan Makovicka, who was elected county treasurer by his classmates, said the most exciting part of his day was watching the county supervisors debate whether or not to change a provision expanding dental coverage to county employees. Makovicka said the spirited discussion was enough to bring him back to another meeting of the Platte County Board of Supervisors, and even suggested moving the meetings to an evening hour accessible to students as a way to engage more students in local government.
County Government Day is organized by Platte County American Legion and Auxiliary Post 84.
Legion member Carroll Mohlman said learning about local government is important because, while legislation that affects a broader constituency is crafted in Lincoln, these laws depend on a network of governmental agencies that ultimately fall on community officials to enforce them.
Humphrey High School history and civics teacher Corey Uldrich said an understanding of local government could be more integral to good citizenship than the more common knowledge of national politics because the institutions performing the everyday functions — such as issuing driver’s licenses and certify marriage certificates — are held at a local level.
While none of the organizers were able to provide a definite age for the program, Legion member Marvin Bender said he remembers going to his own County Government Day in the ’60s as a high school student.
But Bender probably didn’t plan for a zombie invasion in the Platte County Emergency Management office when he was going to school.
“We just need to destroy the brain, basically,” said Humphrey High School sophomore Jared Martin explaining to his group how best to tackle the oncoming undead.
“What if you explode the brain? You could blow it up,” Humphrey High School sophomore Kayla Wemhoff offered.
The group was interrupted by an angry rattling of the door startling the group into silence.
Emergency Management Director Tim Hofbauer said the idea to create a zombie invasion exercise had been kicked around at a regional meeting he has with emergency management officials. He chose to create one for County Government Day because it draws in real world issues associated with disaster management in addition to being fun — or terrifying.
The zombies closed in, cutting off the power supply, the room going suddenly dark as Hofbauer neared the light switch.
The undead relented suddenly, however, and Hofbauer congratulated the group.
Surely, the courthouse was saved by the fierce and ambitious bunch visiting for County Government Day, which ended shortly after.