Mock Trial aims for success despite trials

Mock Trial aims for success despite trials

Yaamini Venkataraman

With a new coaching staff, Mock Trial prepares for a grueling season

Get. It. Done.

That seems to be the motto of this year’s Mock Trial team. Armed with dedicated members and an experienced coaching staff, the team is ready to make the transition from recreational to competitive.

Assistant coach Sergei Shubin discusses examination questions for a witness with (left to right) Mock Trial president junior Nandini Chitale, sophomore Aneesh Prasad, and Mock Trial trial manager sophomore Ankita Tejwani in preparation for their Dec. 5 scrimmage against Hillsdale High School, the current state champion, while English teacher and adviser Jackie Kolbeck works in the background. The team must not only prepare questions for eight witnesses, but it must also prepare cross-examination questions, and train witnesses and lawyers. Photo by Yaamini Venkataraman.Last year, Mock Trial was a club without a coach. Instead of preparing for serious competition, the club sought after recreational practice. But that mindset changed with the presence of coach Jim Torre and assistant coach Sergei Shubin. Both coaches worked with Lynbrook High School’s Mock Trial team, currently ranked as the county champion and third in the state. This year is Torre’s 23rd year coaching Mock Trial and Shubin’s 3rd. Prior to coaching, Shubin was an active member of the LHS Mock Trial team. But why walk away from prestige?

“I thought it was time for me to do more teaching than training,” Torre said. “Teaching as in how to think like a lawyer, as opposed to how to stand up, how to drive a question, how to phrase a question during an examination.”

In this year’s case, the victim Angel Sterling claims assault with a deadly weapon by Jesse Woodson. The defendant is charged on two counts—assault and cyberbullying. However, the defense team aims to eliminate the second count. With such a complex case, the fledgling team often feels overwhelmed due to a lack of experience.

“The MVHS team in the early 90’s was a very competitive team—everyone was afraid to go against MVHS. But then the attorney coach retired, the assistant coach retired, and for a while, there was no team. The team last year and the year before wasn’t very competitive, because there was no coach,” Shubin said. “Because this is a really new team, we don’t have any veterans. We only have the four officers, but we don’t have the experienced seniors who have been on the team for three years and know how the system works.”

The Certificate of Participation awarded to the 2009-2010 Mock Trial team is displayed in English teacher and adviser Jackie Kolbeck’s room. This year’s Mock Trial team strives to win, making the transition from recreational to competitive. Photo by Yaamini Venkataraman.But that’s not the end of the team’s struggle. Even though their team is relatively new, they will be scrimmaging against some of the most experienced schools in the state before the finals in February. In December, they will compete in their first scrimmage against Hillsdale High School, the current state champion. In January, they will compete against Mount Tamalpais High School, the 2005 Marin County champion and 2009 state champion, as well as Elk Grove High School, the current Sacramento County champion, 2007 state champion and 3-time runner-up to the state championship.

To prepare for these scrimmages, the team must prepare eight witnesses and two groups of lawyers—one group for prosecution, one for defense. This year, pressure is being put on the pre-trial motion lawyers, sophomores Reeti Banthia and Evyatar Ben-Ashar. Before the trial, both Banthia and Ben-Ashar will be debating the constitutionality of the cyberbullying count. Banthia will argue that it is unconstitutional and should be thrown out, while Ben-Ashar will attempt to persuade the judge that it is constitutional and therefore, the defendant can be tried for it. This 14 minute portion of the 2 hour trial is crucial to the team’s performance. The results will determine what evidence can be used during the trial and what objections can be made.

Even with all of the added pressure, Mock Trial secretary junior Nitisha Mehta sees the new coaching staff as a blessing.

“We’re only given a packet [about the case], so we have to do everything ourselves,” Mehta said. “The coaches know how to do everything. They know how to score points with the lawyers, and they’re teaching us.”

For now, the Mock Trial team meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. in C204, focusing on one thing and one thing only.

“We [need to] learn this problem cold and develop our strategies,” Torre said. “Then we go to war.”