After six months of practice, eight trials and another classic showdown with their arch rivals, members of the Dos Pueblos High School Mock Trial team heard the verdict they had been hoping for all year as they were crowned Santa Barbara County champions Saturday. The Chargers defeated San Marcos High’s team in the final round of the Santa Barbara County Mock Trial tournament to secure the victory.
The standing room-only crowds that packed Superior Court Departments 1 and 2 on Saturday afternoon were treated to another nail-biting final round between the two schools. Last year, the final round ended in a tie and both schools were named co-champions.
It was the fourth county championship for the Chargers, who earned a coveted spot in the California Mock Trial championships to be held March 23-25 in Sacramento.
This year’s finals didn’t disappoint as the Chargers and Royals exchanged arguments in what one of the attorney scorers described as “an epic heavyweight prize fight.”
Superior Court Judge Donna Geck, who presided over one of the final trials, agreed.
“I want to echo what the attorney scorers said in that each of these teams should be thankful for the other,” Geck said in addressing the court after the final round. “San Marcos wouldn’t be the team they are without Dos Pueblos, and Dos Pueblos wouldn’t be the team they are without San Marcos.”
For sophomore defense attorney Madeline Matthys, the finals were the culmination of months of hard work.
“Going into the final round was extremely nerve-racking, because I couldn’t help thinking that this one final round would determine the outcome of six months of hard work,” said Matthys. “But as soon as I stepped into the courtroom and began the trial, all my nervousness faded away, and I realized that our team could not have been better prepared.”
“I think our whole team is ultimately grateful to San Marcos for being as talented a team as they are,” said prosecution pretrial attorney and team co-captain Connie Wang. “Our own team wouldn’t be where we are today if we weren’t constantly motivated by the knowledge that right across town, another mock trial team was spending long hours preparing for competition as well.
“It’s an intense and exciting experience to be able to compete in the finals against another top-tier team. Although there is rivalry between our two teams, I think it’s a beneficial rivalry that just makes both of us that much better.”
Senior lead prosecution attorney Paisha Fellows was trilled with her entire team’s performance in the final round.
“I loved watching our team work as such a unit,” Fellows said. “There are individuals who stand out like our unbeatable pretrial attorney, Connie Wang. But winning that trophy took the whole team — clerk, witnesses, understudies and attorneys. That’s what sets our team apart.”
The teams argued the fictional case of People vs. Buschell in which the defendant is charged with the second-degree murder of Becca Ables, a childhood friend of Ryan Buschell’s (played by Ray Cothern) who had threatened to get the defendant expelled from college and thus deny him a $20 million trust. The victim is found dead of a stab wound at a Coachella-like music festival.
In Department 2, lead defense attorney Cheryl Wilson argued in closing that the evidence presented by the San Marcos prosecution team did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Buschell was guilty of murder, in part because they could not definitively identify the murder weapon.
“Your honor, it’s not maybe, it’s not probably, it’s not even most likely” argued Wilson. “The prosecution’s burden was to prove that my client’s knife was indeed the weapon that killed Ms. Ables. And they have failed to do so.”
Dos Pueblos now moves on to the state tournament, where the Chargers have finished in the top eight in each of the past two years.
But this year, Wilson says her team will approach it differently.
“In past years, the state competition has just been an added bonus for our team,” said Wilson. “None of our team members had ever competed before, so we were essentially rookies. This year, we’re ready to bring home a state title, and take DP mock to nationals.”
The California Mock Trial Finals are organized by the nonprofit Constitutional Rights Foundation, which is dedicated to educating America’s youth about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society.
Dos Pueblos Mock Trial Team
Prosecution Pretrial Attorney: Connie Wang
Prosecution Attorneys: Paisha Fellows, Alison Mally, Madeleine Centrella (understudy: Sean Strong)
Prosecution Witnesses: Emma Steinkellner, Nadine Pearson (playing Devin Lin), Hannah Cruz (playing Kai Mauer), Agnetta Cleland, Sophia Zheng (playing Dr. Marion Schwartz), Wes Cooperman (playing Detective Kennedy Shephard)
Clerk: Ami Thakrar
Defense Pretrial Attorney: Jake Wiener (understudies: Delia Bullock, Niranjanna Jeeva)
Defense Attorneys: Cheryl Wilson, Madeline Matthys (understudy: Bela Lafferty)
Defense Witnesses: Ray Cothern (playing Ryan Buschell), Nimisha Shinday (playing Sasha Fain), Brian Pinner (playing Dr. Jan Shartsis, AG Prout (played by Ryan Polito)
Bailiff: Camille Wyss
Attorney Coaches: Joel Block, Scott Campbell, Maureen Grattan