Monday, January 22 , 2018, 6:55 am | Fair 43º


Maureen Grattan: What Is Mock Trial and Why Should You or Your Student Participate?

If you graduated from high school before the 1990s, you probably have not heard of high school Mock Trial. In the last 20 years, it has swept the nation. It can be found not only in high schools, but colleges, law schools and even some junior high schools.

Why has it become so popular? Why are colleges offering Mock Trial scholarships? Why do college admissions committees pay special attention to students who have competed in Mock Trial?

The students often begin the program as gangly, giggly kids in braces, and leave the program as self-confident young adults with a strong handshake, a warm smile and a “Look Out World” attitude.

When you ask the kids why they do it, they respond with such simplified answers as “It’s fun!” or “I have made my best friends on the team” or “I can be smart and creative at the same time.”

When you ask seasoned Mock Trial parents why they support their students’ involvement, you hear echoes of the student responses, but also statements such as, “My child used to be afraid to speak in public, now she gets up in front of a real judge and a courtroom full of strangers” or “My student gained so much self-confidence. He learned to use adult language and to look adults in the eye” or “I didn’t know my child could speak without the word ‘like’ permeating every phrase —at least twice.”

Is Mock Trial just for kids who want to become lawyers? Not at all. Every year during the Santa Barbara County competition, Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle invites the students back into his chambers after each trial and asks how many of them want to become lawyers. Very few raise their hands.

In fact, after coaching Mock Trial at Dos Pueblos High School over the past eight years, we have our first three students starting law school this fall.

How does Mock Trial work? Each year a fictional case packet is put together. There is a basic fact statement and several witness affidavits. Each school has to put together both a prosecution case and a defense case.

Some students are pretrial attorneys who argue a constitutional issue before the judge. Up to six students are trial attorneys. Six students are witnesses — usually a police officer, two experts, a defendant and two character witnesses. One student serves as the court clerk; another serves as the bailiff.

The teams work up a theory, a theme, witness exams, and opening and closing statements for each side.

Santa Barbara County teams compete against each other every February and March for the county title and the right to represent the county at the state competition. Santa Barbara County teams are perennially among the best in the state, and California teams are among the best in the country.

The sport of Mock Trial has grown such that there are now international competitions. The Empire World Championship Mock Trial Invitational is held every October in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. The teams from both Dos Pueblos and San Marcos high schools were invited to compete this year, although San Marcos decided not to attend.

The Dos Pueblos team had worked since mid-July on the case, a civil rights action. In the fictional case, a white police officer shoots an unarmed black teenager. The plaintiffs are the parents of the young boy who is shot; they allege that the police department has a policy and practice of police violence, and that those policies and practices were the cause of their son’s life-threatening injuries. The defendant police department alleges that the officer shot in self-defense when the boy reached for some shiny object at his waist. (It turned out to be a cell phone.)

The Dos Pueblos team was assisted in their preparations by members of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to understand the collection and analysis of forensic evidence and the way peace officers are trained in the use of firearms. Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez met with the student who portrayed the fictional police chief on the witness stand in New York. Santa Barbara judges and court personnel donated their time and facilities to help the team practice. We live in a special town that supports our youth.

The Empire Dos Pueblos Mock Trial team includes students Nina Downey and Maggie Miller, captains; Mario Aguirre, Ryan Daniel, Cindy Diaz, Nina Downey, Rebecca, Alexandra Gonzalez Edgar, Aidan Haggerty, Jenny Jang, Natasha Lethaby, Lola Macy, Jennie Rezek, Jenny Rothman, Michael Wallis and Shaoni White.

Kelly Savio is the teacher coach. The attorney coaches are Deedrea Edgar, Joel Block and Maureen Grattan. The team flew out of the Santa Barbara Airport on Tuesday for a week in New York City.

Three years ago in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, the team placed second in the world. Their return was delayed because of the storm, but the kids didn’t mind a bit. They were in a hotel with 300 of their new best friends from all over the world.

Why should you or your student join Mock Trial? They will learn to present themselves with confidence in whatever field they pursue — and have a blast in the meantime with the kind of kids you want your kid to be hanging around. They might even make friends from around the world.

— Maureen Grattan is a family lawyer, divorce mediator and a partner at Dorais, McFarland, Grattan & Polinsky in Santa Barbara. She began coaching the Dos Pueblos High School Mock Trial team in 2008 when her daughter was on the team. The opinions expressed are her own.

(Dr. Glenn E. Miller video)

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