Mock Trial prepares for competition season with hybrid teaching

December 3, 2021 — by Vicky Bai and Jonny Luo
The mock trial team poses for a photo with Velchamy after virtual practice on Nov. 29.

For her day job, Class of 2013 alumna Ashwini Velchamy works as an pretrial attorney in Louisiana helping inmates on death row. For the second year in a row, her volunteer night job is to be the attorney coach for the school’s mock trial team. Again this year, she is doing this work remotely on Zoom. 

Mock Trial aims to simulate real-life courtroom situations by pitting prosecution and defense teams against those of other schools. 

The team has been meeting for two hours every Monday in the student center in preparation for its competition season in January, according to club president senior Nicole Lu. Students spend the first hour on call with Velchamy, learning how to write questions and draft answers. Afterwards, club members separate into small groups to work on direct and cross examinations. 

Assistant principal Matt Torrens is serving as the team’s adviser, a role he has held several times in previous years. He stepped in to do the role when the team could find no other faculty adviser.

During the first semester, attorneys and witnesses formulate arguments and familiarize themselves with a singular case, which varies from year to year depending on the competition. The yearly court case this year centers around the fictional character of Jamie Cobey, who is charged with the murder of his landlord Erik Smith. Students take roles such as attorneys, witnesses and defendant to act out a court simulation, often splitting up into two teams during club meetings: defense and prosecution.

Lu has watched the club grow tremendously. In her freshman year, the club had no adviser or coach, and in her sophomore year, the membership count dropped to three. Last year, 16 members participated remotely, and now, 22 members participate in fully in-person meetings.

“It’s beyond wonderful to see [Mock Trial] grow to the group it is now,” Lu said. “I never thought we’d be able to get as much member turnout as we did last year, but the enthusiasm and energy each team member brings to the table has far exceeded my expectations.”

Mock Trial studies a predetermined fictional court case to prepare for pre-competition scrimmages with schools like Burlingame and Los Gatos in late December and for competition season in late January. The team competes in four rounds over a course of two weeks and will continue to compete if they advance. Unlike traditional competitions that were hosted at the Santa Clara County Courthouse, this year’s will be held virtually through Zoom just as it was during the last school year. 

“The strength of our club comes from our members,” Lu said. “Without the effort of everyone on the team, Mock Trial would not be as successful as it is today.”

According to junior Mock Trial treasurer Arshi Chawla, the club is currently writing out arguments and questions for witnesses and opening and closing statements in preparation for practice trials. They also are planning to hold a club movie night or fundraiser in the second semester.

“It’s a little bit difficult using this hybrid system, but we’re so grateful that we have a coach and that we’ll be able to compete again this year,” Chawla said. “It’s exciting because we have a lot of participation this year and with in-person practices, we get to have more of a team atmosphere.”

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