By Camille Gazoul ’15 | Staff Writer
Mock Trial Club competed alongside some of the most prestigious schools in Michigan on March 9. The club provides an opportunity for high school students to compete in a statewide competition where they prepare both defense and plaintiff sides of a case. This year, the suit was a civil case, club Adviser Peter Palen said.
“Mock trial club is a group of people and we meet once a week,” said group member Ellie Zak ’14. “We get a case and we have to develop both sides of the case, the defense and the plaintiff.”
The same case is given out to every Mock Trial team in late October. The club competed against other schools with the same case at the competition two weeks ago, Palen said.
The club is assigned three witnesses per side. The witnesses have statements that the club has to develop and assign people to, there are also three lawyers on each side, Zak said.
“We have to develop our case and we have to develop cross examination questioning, and direct exam questioning, opening statements, and closing arguments. Just everything there is in an actual case based on the information we get,” said Zak.
They give each club a couple pages of witness statements, like a Q and A about the witness that is related to the case. The participant is only allowed to testify about things that the witnesses already said, Zak said.
“So you have to keep it within the boundaries of the witness statement but you’re allowed to have fun with it,” said Zak.
After working on all the aspects of a case in their practices, the club eventually goes to competition. At the competition, the club is told which side they are to argue, for example it could be defense. Then the club would compete against the other team’s plaintiff.
“We’ll just have a trial with the other team. I was a lawyer on the plaintiff and I did a direct exam questioning of a witness, the cross exam questioning of a witness and I did the closing argument. I was also a witness on the defense side,” said Zak.
Mock trial puts on the case three times at the competition. As plaintiff once and defense twice or be the defense once and plaintiff twice, Palen said. The club does not know until the day of the tournament which side they will be or what team they are competing against.
“There are three regional tournaments that will take place: one in Pontiac, one is in Grand Rapids and one is in Ann Arbor,” said Palen.
Mock trial went to Pontiac to compete on Saturday March 9 where they competed alongside excellent schools like Mercy and Country Day, Palen said.
The club worked hard but their scores were not high enough to continue on in the competition, Palen said.
“I thought we did very well; it’s only our second year doing Mock Trial here at South so we’re still figuring out how to go about doing it well,” said Zak. “We went up against some really good teams. At our third competition one of the judges told us that we were two of the best teams he’d seen that day.”
Though the club did not move on to the next level, there are elements of the competition that the club excelled at like the witnesses and attorneys, club member Matt Murray ’15 said.
“Our group was really good at maintaining composure. We are very good at keeping our confidence making sure that we presented ourselves well,” said Zak. “Our witnesses were very good, on cross exam questioning when the other team was trying to nail them they did a good job of maintaining their character under pressure and not giving them what they want to hear.”
Mock trial is a excellent extracurricular activity to be involved in because it gives students real life experience of thinking on their feet and teaches the students to have confidence, said Palen.
“They get up and they act out as an attorney would just like any other case, they get objected to by the opposing council, some students are doing opening and closing statements,” said Palen. “They’re under a microscope; there is close scrutiny of the participants because there is an actual judge that volunteers to judge at the competition.”
Now that competition is over, the club will not reconvene until next year when the new case is chosen, Zak said. But new members are always welcome.
“Anybody can join the club, you can be a freshman or a senior joining for the first time, you can be someone that’s kind of shy and wants to join the club because you want to develop your confidence, or you can be someone that’s extremely confident and wants to come in and blow everyone away,” said Zak. “We’d love to have some new people on the team next year who are really interested.”
A wide range of people can join and even if a student does not know about the American legal system they can still have fun and do well in the club, Murray said.
“I was interested in the legal system so I thought it would be fun to learn more about it by working on a case,” said Murray.
His advice to people who want to join is “if you’re ready to work hard, you’ll be fine.”