Last winter, just a few days before the beginning of February, I called my debate coach, Isaiah McPeak, to tell him the results of my first tournament. After listening to the info, extending congratulations, and being thanked, Isaiah proceeded to ask me if I wanted to be a lead attorney for a mock trial “dream team” (of sorts) that he and Tim Snyder (another Ethos instructor) were starting.
The plan was simple: assemble a team of solid attorneys and witnesses, practice really hard for a month and a half, and then take the VA state championship by storm. We ended up doing each. Our team included myself, Lydia Bode (attorney; Ethos sourcebook manager), Chloe Lorence (attorney; Vector TP debater), Rachel Bell (witness; Vector TP debater), Chris Evans (witness; NVCC LD debater), Natalie Torbert (witness; Vector TP debater), and Justin Lorence (timer; Vector speaker). We’re a bit Vector-centric.
Let me lay some background on high school mock trial for you. The league is really just a championship with local and state qualifying competitions (win local, qualify for state, win state, qualify for nationals, win nationals, qualify for fame). It’s called the National High School Mock Trial Championship, or NHSMTC for short…er, and it’s open to public, private, and home schools. Because VA is relatively new to the NHSMTC, Team Ethos didn’t have to compete in a local tournament; instead we went straight to state.
The case materials for each state are released sometime in the fall allowing teams several months to prepare for their state championship,
happens in the spring. Case materials include affidavits (or statements) of witnesses, a charge or claim against the defendant (e.g. homicide, theft, etc. in the case of a criminal case, or a claim of money/restoration in a civil case), and some pre-developed exhibits for use in the trial. Each witness on your team plays a witness within the case materials and must BE that person i.e. know their life, know their story, and know their personality/mannerisms. Each attorney chooses one witness to direct examine (open ended questioning of your own witness intending for your witness to “get his or her story out”) and one witness to cross examine (lead questioning of the opposing party’s witness intended to poke holes in his or her story). Additionally, each side (defense, prosecution) will deliver an opening statement and a closing statement (each delivered by a different attorney). A final responsibility of the attorneys is to be able to object (and, conversely, respond to objections) as per the rules of evidence stipulate. For example, a common objection is an objection to hearsay (federal rule of evidence 802) that an attorney would raise when a witness testifies as to what another individual said e.g. “I heard Joe say ‘I saw Mary kill Fred!'”
Clear as mud, right?
It wasn’t to me and didn’t become clear for a while. But being confused wasn’t an option back in February, because we only had until the end of March to become knowledgeable, slick, aggressive, quick-witted lawyers who knew each side of the case, down to the punctuation Brit used in that one sentence of her affidavit, inside and out. Understanding mock trial is hard enough for a layperson, but actually becoming a functioning attorney is something entirely different.
Our team, coached by Tim Snyder primarily, with help from Isaiah and Amy McPeak, as well as Jonathan Carden (former PHC mock trial’er), met via Google+ Hangout (not Skype for a secret reason, haha) and in-person once a week on Saturdays. Some of our personalities clashed, and some of our case theories had to be scrapped, but in the end we pulled it together and had a solid prosecution case against Brit/Britney Reynolds for first degree homicide and robbery, as well as a working defense case saying the same person was innocent. I still think s/he did it. [Note: You may have noticed I’m being ambiguous with the gender of witnesses. This isn’t because the mock trial board makes everyone androgynous (although grammatically they do), but because depending on the team, the witness could be played by a guy or a girl. This lends itself to more confusion and mistakes in trial; remembering six genders is harder than you think!]
I was going to be delivering the closing statement, as well as direct examining Britney Reynolds (played by Miss Rachel Bell), and cross examining Brit’s friend, Joey/Josephine Garrett.
Lydia was going to be delivering the opening statement, as well as direct examining our friendly city coroner, Dr. Kim Hobbes (played by Miss Natalie Torbert), and cross examining the defense’s forensic pathologist, Dr. Sage Bingham.
Chloe was going to be handling pre-trial matters, as well as direct examining Officer Kris Evelrud (played by Chris Evans), and cross examining Park Ranger Marion Birch.
On defense, all the witnesses played the corresponding witness and all of the attorneys flipped the d-ex and c-ex’s.
Most of that information is probably extraneous, but I want top paint the full outline. Every single person on our team had to put in several, several hours of work.
Moving along, we went down to Williamsburg, VA practiced for an entire day and then showed up at the courthouse bright and early on Saturday morning. We managed to eek out a win for our first round and lost to the defending champs our second round. We went back to our little timeshares apartments (Thanks to the Bodes for letting use them!) and worked until late that evening. The next morning the first outround occurred and since we were 1-1, we didn’t buy. We won our first outround, won our second outround, and found ourselves in finals against the defending champions whom we had hit the day before. This time we were locked for prosecution, which couldn’t have been better.
[Funny side note story: when Ad Fontes (the other team in finals) found out they were hitting us, they actually asked Tim if they could just be prosecution since one of their attorneys was graduating and he really wanted the chance to perform in finals and he wasn’t a part of their defense lineup. We said no.]
We ended up winning finals and that meant we could attend the official NHSMTC in Albuquerque, NM at the beginning of May!
All of us except Justin and Chris, who had to perform in a theatre production he was starring in, decided to give it another go and try for a national title. To replace Chris and Justin we drafted Zack Voell (TP Debater, Ethos social media manager) and Justin and Chloe’s older brother, Joshua Lorence (Vector TP debater). Josh would end up timing when we were on prosecution and acting as witness when we were on defense; Rachel Bell would do the opposite.
So our nats team was set, but now it was time to learn an entirely new case that was three or four times the size (in terms of affidavit lengths and amount of exhibits) of our state case. On top of that, Josh and Zack had to deal with the exact same learning curve the rest of us dealt with for state. It was a behemoth task, but we did it again and this time we actually got in a scrimmage before the tournament (against the PHC mock trial team with the oversight of PHC mock trial coach and professor of government, Dr. Frank Guliuzza).
We showed up in ABQ two days before the tournament start date (as per NHSMTC schedule), practiced and prepped nearly non-stop for two days, and then began mock trial’ing come Friday morning. The skill of most of the other teams at the championship was very impressive. The most humorous part of our trials was that the gallery for our team included Tim- only Tim, our coach. The gallery for the other side usually included family members, a “teacher” coach (the coach of the school that the team attends), and one to three “attorney” coaches (actual, professional attorneys that have joined on to help coach the team in all matters law). When coaches would ask if Tim was a teacher coach or an attorney coach, he usually went with both, as was fitting.
At the national championship, there aren’t any outrounds, just finals. This means to advance at the championship, a team has to be either first or second seed, or, in other words, essentially perfect. We were not first seed, we were not second, and we sure weren’t perfect. But guess what? It turns out we were more perfect than 26 other teams and actually had more overall points than nine of the teams with a better W/L record. So for the W/L record, we finished 21st in the nation, but for overall points we finished 10th. Pretty good for a team of seven people, five of whom who heard about mock trial for the first time in February 2012, and two of whom who heard about it in April 2012.
So that’s our story. Heavily abridged. I would have loved to include all of the heart warming times in between rounds like pretending to be Chris Trager for a few hours, or enjoying many a meal at Lindy’s, but that would take a few thousand words more.
1. Be patient with everyone and learn to notice and love their good side.
2. Mock trial involves a lot of finesse that other styles of competitive forensics don’t possess.
3. You don’t win mock trial, you lose mock trial. (Taken from Tim Snyder who took it from Dr. Guliuzza)
4. Hard work pays off and pay off necessitates hard work.