By Aubrey Burgess

This year’s Youth and Government competition has brought students from all over Texas to compete in different branches of government. The judicial branch competes in the county court which has both civil and criminal cases and applies to the county. The case that judicial is debating for the 2017-18 competition is about age discrimination and whether or not they fired a man because of his age. The teams have to prepare to argue both sides which Rodrigo Padilla, a 9th grader at the International Leadership of Texas Keller-Saginaw High School (KHS), says is difficult “because you have to focus on time management when practicing and really work on rebutting information.”

Kaimen Goudy, a senior at KHS said, “I was introduced to Youth & Government in middle school and interested in law … they had a club where they said you get to be a pretend lawyer or a pretend witness, so I joined.”

She was hooked from the start and has participated in Youth and Government ever since. Her team has been preparing for this state competition for 3 months now and they feel ready.

“My team is very united together, which is so great, but two people from our team have gotten sick right before the trip so we are all taking on extra roles last minute … I think that we are going to do good,” Kaimen said.  

At the team’s district competition they won three out of four of their cases but still received a low score which put them in County Court. Padilla says, “My favorite thing about County Court is that it is easier and a lot less stressful.” County Court, although smaller than District Court, gets to debate in multiple ballrooms in the Renaissance Hotel, where all of the Youth and Government participants are staying over the three-day conference. The District Court goes to the Capitol to debate in an actual courtroom. At both of these events, there is a student judge who presides over the courtroom and at least two attorneys per team. Every team also has witnesses who act out their character. “I chose to be a witness because I really like drama or theatre, and I feel like this is a good way to express it,” said Padilla, a witness. They spend about a year working on getting their teams ready which means memorizing the part of the witness, practicing the argument from both sides, and practicing head to head with another team. “I was awful at being a witness, but they questioned me so many times, and while it was annoying at times, they have done so much to make me ready and prepared; I don’t want to disappoint them,” said Padilla.

The case that they are working on is about a man over 40 years old who works at a company named 4C’s, a food service company. He became the general manager and was very good at it, until the defendant transferred 3 of the plaintiff’s territories to another worker with no explanation or warning. When the company consolidated, they fired the plaintiff saying it was going to save the company money. Before they fired him, they had made many comments about his age, and how the company “needed new blood.” The Plaintiff sued for age discrimination because according to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, “It shall be unlawful for an employer to … discharge any individual … because of such individual’s age.” The participants of the competition thought the case was interesting, but could have had a little bit more action. Padilla said, “I enjoyed working on the case, a murder case would’ve been really cool, but it is still great and I have a lot of fun doing it or else I wouldn’t be here.”

“I feel like my team is pretty prepared. I am really prepared; I have been studying for a year,” said Padilla. The team won the first round, against an opposing team from Moody High School. During the case, the KHS team competed as the defense, and Moody High represented the plaintiff. The plaintiff gave the opening and said, “It should be unlawful that any company should fire an individual because of their age.” The plaintiff then called Allison Young to the witness stand who was also fired and hasn’t been able to find a job since. Then the defense crossed saying that Allison Young has already lied in her testimony because in her affidavit she said that the defendant asked for everyone’s birthdays because of a special birthday bonus that was to be awarded to employees on their birthdays. The debate continued with multiple other witnesses that the defendant then cross-examined. When the defendant gave their opening remarks they said, “This is not a case about any discrimination or injustice just corporate business and making the best decision for the company.” They proved this by cross-examining and asking their witnesses questions that supported the defendant’s case. By the end of round one, the judge found that the defendant was not guilty. “It is really rewarding to hear the judge’s decision be in your favor,” said Goudy.