Mock Trial caps most successful season in recent history, but fails to advance

February 16, 2023 — by Christina Chang and Sanjoli Gupta
Photo by Shaan Sridhar
The Prosecution team poses with glee for a celebratory photo during a team debrief following a victorious competition on Jan. 26.
Practices started a month late due to an inability to find an attorney coach. 

Mock Trial concluded its competition season in early February. Competitions occurred remotely over Zoom for the third consecutive year since the start of the pandemic. Twenty teams competed in the Santa Clara County tournament this year. 

This year’s case centered on the accused robbery of a Shakespearean signet ring and alleged battery. With the argument that the defendant took the victim’s ring without consent and, in the process, willfully used physical force to break the defendant’s arm, the Prosecution argued for the statutes of robbery and battery causing serious bodily harm, with larceny of grand theft or petty theft as fallbacks. The Defense argued the opposite, and that the defendant was not guilty on all charges.

Judge rulings are made independently of scoring attorney decisions; scores are evaluations of team performances and indicative of teams’ levels of success. 


Prosecution team reigned victorious in competitions

The Prosecution team consisted of lead attorney and opening statement deliverer Shaan Sridhar (senior); pretrial attorney Ryan Heshmati (sophomore); attorney Aaron Wu (freshman); attorney and closing statement deliverer Christina Chang (senior); the four witnesses, senior Elizabeth Stoiber and sophomores Diya Kapoor, Juhi Karamcheti and Caitlin Stoiber; and the clerk, junior Lena Aribi.

The judges ruled in favor of the Prosecution for all charges on Jan. 26. The judge and scoring attorneys noted the team’s knowledge of the case, good direct and cross examination questions and succinct summaries, and suggested focusing directly on the point during cross examination as an area of improvement. The Prosecution team beat its opponent, Los Altos High, 631-580.

The Prosecution faced Evergreen Valley High for their second official competition on Feb. 2. Though the Commissioner ruled the Defendant not guilty on all charges, the Prosecution team won by a slim margin with a score of 288-286. Scoring attorneys praised students’ professionalism and particularly noted the attorneys’ presentations of the pretrial motions, opening and closing statements and responses to objections.

“We thought it went really well and we were really proud of our team and the way we were able to put together a fairly solid team out of a lot fewer resources than our team normally has,” Sridhar said.


Defense team received unfavorable rulings

The Defense consisted of lead attorney and opening statement deliverer Arshi Chawla (senior); pretrial attorney Alan Cai (sophomore); attorney Clara Zhao (freshman); attorney and closing statement deliverer Aarushi Sharma (sophomore); four witnesses, seniors Ritisha Byri and Ananya Seth, junior Sarah Thomas and sophomore Anika Karvat; and the bailiff, freshman Aurav Kapadia.

The Defense faced Prospect High on Jan. 24 and Los Altos High on Jan. 31. The judge ruled against the Defense for all charges in both competitions. Scores for both Defense competitions were not released, but the team was commended by the judges and scoring attorneys for strong performances.

“I think our team isn’t as strong as it’s been in the past,” Chawla said. “But we’ve got a lot of new members, and it’s just been a learning experience.”


Initial lack of attorney coach prompted challenges, slowed progress

After attorney coach Ashwini Velchamy couldn’t return to coach again after a two-year stint, the Mock Trial team struggled to find a replacement coach for the 2022-23 season. 

The team was forced to begin its season without any coaches, but was able to recruit two mid-season: Marie Betchel and Sal Liccardo, both of whom are retired lawyers. The coaches are a crucial component of the activity as students work through complicated legal procedures and terminology in the cases they have been given as part of the competition, said Chawla.

 This year, however, the co-presidents — Chawla and Sridhar — have assumed many of the duties of attorney coaches, with Betchel and Liccardo serving mostly as advisers. Assistant principal Matt Torrens also advised the team.

The delay in finding a coach slowed progress, forcing the team to begin practices more than a month later than usual. 

“We were definitely more pressed for time,” Chawla said. “We had to get everything done a lot quicker.”

However during that time frame, the presidents kept the team running.

“I feel like our team was at a disadvantage in the beginning because we started late and had trouble recruiting attorney coaches,” Sridhar said. “But throughout the year we were able to get a hold mostly because Arshi and I just took it upon ourselves to do most of the work that normally an adult would do.”

During most meetings, the team split into attorney-witness pairs, in which the attorney questioned the witness as practice. The students came up with questions and rehearsed, and the attorney coach gave feedback. Some meetings also included short lectures where the team went over the rules of the trial and how to make objections. 

Sridhar said the grit and commitment of every student on the team is ultimately what allowed it to succeed, despite all the obstacles the team faced. Though the team was unable to advance in the competition, he said he was proud of their accomplishments.

“I remember when I first came to Mock Trial as a freshman and the team literally didn’t exist, and we didn’t have enough people to compete,” Sridhar said. “But over the past three years, we’ve been able to build a strong team from scratch, despite facing every setback we could imagine. As a senior, to lead a team and not just compete but also win competitions — this is the best outcome I could have imagined. I can’t wait to see what the club is able to do next.”

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