Seattle Prep edged Eastside Catholic in an annual mock-trial competition on Monday night.

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Bias and motive.

Both were on display Monday night in a high-school mock-trial competition before King County Superior Court Judge William Downing. Students from Seattle Prep and Eastside Catholic portrayed attorneys and witnesses in a case that could have been pulled from today’s headlines — the fictional death of an avid bicyclist struck by the driver of a SUV.

Weaving together testimony that seemed to zig to one conclusion, then zag to another, the students who took the witness stand took full advantage of the opportunity to display the foibles and vanities of the human race, while those acting as attorneys remained as staid and serious as any high-powered lawyer from a big downtown law firm.

Displaying their talents in a packed courtroom, three young women from Prep represented the estate of the cyclist, Millicent Tennyson, a descendant of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. They argued that the victim’s brother and his company, where the victim worked, deserved a $1 million insurance payout.

Three equally adept young women from Eastside Catholic took the side of the insurance company, contending that the sum should not be paid because Tennyson died racing recklessly in an urban-biking competition, in violation of the insurance policy.

Prep prevailed by a preponderance of the evidence, raising doubts about the driver and the insurance-company claims. The unanimous verdict was handed to Downing by three jurors, all real-life attorneys — Emilia Sweeney, an insurance-law specialist; John McHale, a bicycle-law specialist with; and Joseph Bringman, president of the King County Bar Association.

The best-attorney award went to Christina Payne of Prep, who wore a no-nonsense black suit that matched her formal, polished delivery.

Best-witness awards went to Michael Abraham, of Eastside, who portrayed Locksley Hall, the pompous, aggressive driver of the SUV, and Shelby Newell, also of Eastside, who took on the role of Nelly Bales, a friend and fellow cyclist of Tennyson’s.

“Mr. Hall was delightfully oily,” noted Sweeney of that character.

Downing, who has been involved in the YMCA-sponsored competition for 23 years, wrote the complex case, aiming to broaden the perspective of students from 20 public and private schools in King County who participated beginning 1 ½ weeks ago. Each team had 12 to 15 members, with some arguing for the plaintiffs and some for the defense.

Students look at every factual, legal and social issue from multiple angles, searching for weak points in their positions and counterarguments.

Prep and Eastside will move on to the state mock-trial competition, along with Franklin High School and University Prep, both of Seattle, and the International Community School, of Kirkland, all of which were edged out in the run-up to the King County finals.

This year’s case gave the students a chance to examine the rights and responsibilities of urban bicyclists, debated through conflicting views and strict rules of evidence, according to materials prepared by Downing. It also gave them a chance to see how U.S. courts work, where verdicts may not always be correct but are forged by a system that strives to be fair and scrupulous.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or