Trial and Error

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The court adjourned, silence took over the room before the shuffling of feet echoed through the room. Mock Trial students and their spectators then proceeded to a different courtroom for their next round of competition, preparing for another lengthy trial.

From Feb. 27 to Mar. 1, Cam High’s Mock Trial teams competed in the Ventura County Mock Trial Competition, which includes a total of 35 teams from 27 high schools. Out of a total of 35 teams, the varsity team, the Scorpions, finished in tenth place, while the junior varsity team, First Instar, ended in seventh place and made it to finals. The top eight teams advanced.

“[Mock Trial] is an academic competition that involves a fictional criminal case. Each school puts together a prosecution and defense team that’s made up of student attorneys, witnesses, a bailiff and a court,” said Mr. Shawn Near, Mock Trial faculty coach. “Each side does the best to present their case, where the prosecutor tries to convict the defendant while the defense is trying to acquit the defendant.”

Many mock trial members have mixed feelings about the end result, with only the junior team, First Instar, making it to finals.

“[The end result is] a little bittersweet for us, being on the Scorpions team, which is our varsity team, and placing tenth,” said Helen Zhang, senior on the Scorpion team. “But you know, we put in a lot of work and I’m really happy with the result, and I’m super excited for our Instar team, because their work was a reflection of how me and [Nandakumar] did as sort of the leaders of the team. To see them successful makes me really happy because they’re like my children, in a way, and we’re the ones who taught them.”

“Competing for the first time was nerve-wrecking. I was nervous, shaking, and trying to calm myself down, but once you get up there, it all goes away,”said Madison Escobar, junior on the Instar team.”I think [what helped the most] was that our teachers, [Nandakumar] and [Zhang] who are seniors, taught me and my co-attorney everything.”

“In the end, we all performed well, and I think we got better teams to compete against than the A team, because I think they have harder teams to go against than us. So I think be both did equally well, it was just based on the teams,”said Ian Lattimer, freshman on the Instar team.“Most of us are first-years on the team, so I think it’s really exciting and shows that if we continue [to work hard], we could maybe get top four next year, or maybe even first.”

Despite the challenges, Near said that both teams had a successful season. “I think overall, it was a good season. Both teams did well in competitions. Our senior team, the Scorpions, fell short of making finals, which was a disappointment to everyone, especially the students,” Near said. “But our Instar team made it to finals for the first time in history. That was a highlight of the season, since almost all of them are first year members of Mock Trial. I hope that although following short of their season goal, they had fun, enjoyed the season and learned a lot this year.”

Initial tryouts were held mid-September, where students first auditioned for a spot in Mock Trial team, and then tried out for specific roles, such as an attorney or a witness. Students are given an impromptu speech and a little play to act out, which helps the coaches determine who has the specific skills for each respective position. Experienced members were placed on the senior team, the Scorpions, while newer and younger members were placed on the junior team, First Instar. Coaches also factor in how well everyone works with each other to determine the teams.

Practice started right after tryouts, with Mock Trial members meeting three hours per day, twice a week, in Near’s room, with additional practices outside of school. The case is different for pre-trial, which meets separately once a week, occasionally joining back in with the rest of Mock Trial members around the end of December. Pre-trial is where the prosecutor and defense team appear before a criminal court judge and argue whether a specific statement or piece of evidence is able to be excluded during the trial.

“I think the biggest thing I got out of Mock Trial over the past four years was the friendship, the team, and the camaraderie that goes on in the team during the year, since every year, it’s a different team, different connections are made, and different bonds are formed,” Nandakumar said. “Regardless of the results of the competition, those are the things that carry beyond Mock Trial and school.”

“For those who don’t know much about it, Mock Trial is the breeding ground for you to try out public speaking and advocacy. If you like to speak in front of a crowd, would like to be better at it, and also enjoy the academic competitive atmosphere, that’s the perfect environment for you,” said Joyce Seok, senior on the Scorpions team. “In Mock Trial, I found a sense of community, family, and I have definitely grown and learned so much from being in it. Although many people might not want to be a lawyer, I think it gives you an increase in confidence and poise, and an ability to speak in front of people that you may not get otherwise.”

Camarillo was one of two teams to win the Sportsmanship Award this year, in which other participating schools nominate one school that has demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship towards other teams during the competition. Several members also took home individual awards, along with senior Avinash Nandakumar, who was voted team MVP for the Scorpions and senior Samantha Paul voted as team MVP for First Instar. 

Individual award winners on both teams included:

Patrick Huntsinger – 3rd place, best Bailiff

Sarah Foote – 3rd place, best defense witness

Rahul Menon – 2nd Place, best defense witness

Ian Lattimer – 1st place, best prosecution witness

Avinash Nandakumar – 3rd place, best prosecution attorney

Joyce Seok – 3rd place, best prosecution pretrial attorney

Jessica Yuan – 2nd Place, best prosecution pretrial attorney

“Hard work never goes unpaid, regardless of what the result is. There are always positives to look for, and just because you don’t go to state [finals] doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in the work next year,” said Nandakumar. “So always believe in your team and don’t underestimate the capacity of your team to achieve, because if you keep working at it, no matter what, you’ll achieve success from the work that you did.”