A historical case: Mock trial team secures No. 2 spot in county finals

March 1, 2011 — by Sabrina Cismas

Saratoga High has some successful lawyers in the making on the mock trial team, which secured second place in Santa Clara County finals out of 22 schools, losing by a mere three points to Prospect High School on Feb. 22 at the Superior Courthouse. It was the best performance ever by a Saratoga High team.

Throughout their season, 12-person team won all four qualifying rounds, the quarterfinals, and the semifinals, preparing the stage for the defense mock trial team who competed in the finals. If they would have won, they would have gone on to the state competition, and a victory there would have meant a spot in the national competition in Phoenix.

“The finals all came down to the flip of a coin,” senior captain Shannon Galvin said. “The other team was really good.”

The SHS team has never made it to the finals before, meaning that some magic had happened during their limited once-a-week practices.

“A lot of other school teams have mock trial as a class during school or they meet multiple times a week,” Galvin said. “All we do is meet once a week.”

Galvin credits some of the success to the team’s improved attitude, as they were able to work together more successfully and comprehensively, whereas in past years cliques usually formed between the different roles.

“We’ve come a long way, looking back to where we were two years ago,” Galvin said. “It shows how much and how hard we’ve worked.”

Unlike previous trials where three judges preside, the finals had six judges eyeing the teams, with one of the judges currently involved in a working rape case.

“Our coach was telling us that some of the [information] that was in our fake case was relevant to what the judge was working on right now,” said senior Grace Kim, who played the part of a witness.

Adding to the stress of the realistic environment, cameras were installed in the courthouse to film and document the whole procedure.

Kim said the environment was much more intimidating and the addition of three judges made the experience more nerve-racking because it was harder to tell whether they were winning or not.

The lawyers on the team had prepared ahead of time scripts with dialogue with each of their witnesses, but during the real trial, improvisation and tailoring of the script according to the other team’s responses needed to happen in order to make the trial more realistic, Galvin said.

“You do a lot of thinking on the spot,” Galvin said. “If you combine speech and debate, drama, and add what people learn in three years of law school, then you end up with mock trial.”

True to its name, mock trial is a trial held by students, with the same routines and atmosphere that exist in a real one. The only difference is that the cases are fake, usually revolving around current issues and pressing matters.

The team’s trial for the finals was about an assault with a deadly weapon case. The defense team was defending a student who hit another student with a brick in the head.

Points were awarded by the judges, who are judges in reality, based on the quality of each team’s performance.

The team lost to Prospect by 514 to 511 points.

Even with the narrow defeat, mock trial participants were thrilled with their results.

“It was a good end because none of us got the experience of going to finals before; we didn’t even get to semifinals last year,” Kim said.

Galvin is excited that the team was able to make their coach, Dr. Hugh Roberts, proud.

“It’s Dr. Roberts last year as a coach, and he’s done it for so long,” Galvin said of the former social studies teacher who has guided the program since the 1980s. “It was nice to give him that accomplishment.”