MCHS Mock Trial Team
By Monica Lander
The future of a high school student’s life hangs in the balance as legal teams battle over the admissibility of evidence that could turn the tables for a murder conviction. The Moreau Catholic High School Mock Trial Team brings courtroom drama to life as members role play in a fictional case as trial attorneys, pretrial motion attorneys, defense and prosecution witnesses, clerks and bailiffs, and courtroom artists and journalists each year and come head to head with teams from all over the state.
Just like athletic teams who benefit from year-round conditioning, the Mock Trial Team kicks off its second summer camp to prepare and get in shape for another season of courtroom competitions.
In our first trial we realized that this is not a club but a full fledged competitive team with all the characteristics of any varsity sports team.”
Coach Phil Wilder
Bob Parker, history teacher and freshman football coach, started the Mock Trial program at MCHS nine years ago attracting many of its participants from this AP World History class. Fellow Social Studies teachers Phil Wilder and Petar Zegura took over the reins four years ago. A year later, the Mock Trial coaching staff expanded to include alumni attorney-coaches James Smith ’97, Peter Borruso '03 and Robert Burnside '73.
“In our first trial we realized that this is not a club but a full fledged competitive team with all the characteristics of any varsity sports team,” said Wilder.
"Mock Trial gives students an avenue besides athletics to develop their talents and it’s really important for students to get an opportunity to compete," he adds. In Mock Trial, there is “a percentage of drama and acting, a percentage of critical thinking and debating and, finding and using your voice to win a case figuratively and literally,” says Wilder.
The summer camp was suggested by a student and is totally run by volunteers including attorney advisors Borruso, Burnside and Coaches Wilder and Zegura. Nevada County Public Defender Gina Le is also joining the team of advisors this summer. They meet with the students at Moreau on four Saturdays from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and culminate with a trial in front of family and friends on Sunday, July 20.
About three dozen students signed up for the summer camp. Perhaps it’s the Team’s success of taking first place in the Alameda County competition and qualifying for the Constitutional Rights Foundation annual state competition two years in a row, but Mock Trial’s popularity has grown so much that this year, a junior team will be assembled, says Wilder, which will give even more students a chance to participate and compete.
The Mock Trial Team finished fifth and 11th in the State the last two years with one student selected as a top witness and one student selected top attorney. Junior Jennifer Tao received an honorable mention for Courtroom Artist in 2013.
I enjoy the adrenaline rush the most. It’s comparable to any competitive sport out there, but instead of physical, it’s mental.”
Nathan Yu, Senior Team Member
“They (the team) are living proof that ‘effort equals ability’ as their passion and approach to the case since September has been inspirationally remarkable,” he adds.
The 2013-14 14-member team, eight of whom returned from the previous year’s fifth place win at State, argued the case of People v. Concha which centered on the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure and whether or not a vehicle search conducted by an undercover police office was within the ‘plain view’ exception to the warrant requirement.
Since September, the team has practiced three times a week after school and at least two weekend days a month. Like the football team, they held scrimmages against Tracy, Marin Academy and Tamalpais high schools and attended invitationals in Stockton, Menlo Park and Carmel to prepare for the county and state competitions.
“It’s not always content,” that beats the other opponents, says Yu, “but how you present yourself. It’s tough when you know you won material-wise, but because your performance was lack-luster, the opponent get the better score.”
Mock Trial teaches the students so much more than they could get from reading about court procedure and constitutional issues, says Wilder.
“It teaches them about the law and life, and because they have to do it together and face these challenges and adversity together, they forge skills and bonds that they will never forget,” he says and adds, “They think, speak, and exude critical thinking and questioning. It teaches them about how they need to literally and figuratively stand up and argue their points.”
“A hand-on experience with real opportunities is way better than any Times New Roman, 12-sized font, 1,000-page black and white analysis of the law,” says Yu.
Senior Arjun Singh enjoyed playing his role of defense attorney in his second year on Mock Trial and, particularly, the opportunity to present the closing argument.
“I’ve always loved having that commanding presence, with everyone listening and paying attention to my words. It’s a very empowering experience and one that I’ve cherished very much so far,” he says. “I’ve learned so much in such a small period of time because I’ve been able to experience the process, not conceptualize it,” he adds.
Beyond the traditional classroom and teachers, these students have also been taught by judges, attorneys, and police officers and have worked with law students at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall.
The mission of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, founded in 1962, is to educate students about our constitution and the bills of rights. The Mock Trial program was created in 1980 to help students gain, among other skills, a working knowledge of our judicial system, develop analytical abilities and communication skills. Schools in 36 California counties and more than 8,000 students compete.
The Mock Trial students are the hardest working students I have ever had the privilege of working with. They are constantly looking for new ideas despite the fact that they are already so talented. The competitions are intense but professional and I simply enjoy being with all the coaches and students.”
Attorney Coach Peter Borruso ‘03
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