Order in the Court! Mock Trial is in Session!

“All rise, Superior Court of the State of California, County of Orange, Department One, is now in session.”

At 8 o’clock on the morning of Saturday, November 11, Garden Grove High School’s Red and White Mock Trial teams arrived at JSerra Catholic High School for the final scrimmage competition against other Orange County teams before the official competition starting on the following Tuesday. Our Argonauts transformed into professional attorneys, prosecutors, bailiffs, and witnesses, prepared to execute their roles in this year’s case, People v. Davidson, to the best of their abilities.

The case of People v. Davidson involves the defendant Casey Davidson, charged with first degree murder of Alex Thompson, a member of the extremist nationalist group, Ultra Nats. The prosecution claims that Davidson killed Thompson at a political rally out of hatred for Thompson’s anti-immigration beliefs. The defense counters that on the basis of reasonable doubt, citing the uncertainty in identifying the actual murder weapon and the fingerprints of the true murderer who wielded it.

“The case this year feels silly,” admits Selina Huynh (12), President of GGHS Mock Trial. “It touches on our current political climate, but it doesn’t fully address its subtleties, so it’s almost satire. That doesn’t prevent us from enjoying it though. Even though it’s a struggle to defend a client with all the ridiculousness of his actions against him, at the end of the day we have a good time making fun of it!”

The Mock Trial members were professional about keeping their inside jokes outside the courtroom, of course. Their game faces were on as they prosecuted and defended their case to a volunteer judge who works at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

They’ve prepared for their day in court since October. Ms. Lazarony, an English teacher on campus who took the bar exam in 2016, hosts team meetings every Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 5pm. This is Ms. Lazarony’s third year as Mock Trial’s advisor, and she is always impressed by the high-level discussions the students have about law at each meeting. “Part of Mock Trial is the pretrial motion, and it’s essentially arguing an issue of law. The level of analysis that one has to do in pretrial for the competition is the same as in law school,” Ms. Lazarony states. “It’s incredible that teens are able to do this complicated task, because it’s truly what attorneys do.”

The team is also coached by actual practicing lawyers who offer the students insight on how to tackle each year’s hypothetical case. At meetings, the coaches give their personal experience from the court cases they’ve been involved in and help the students get a sense of how to deliver their case. They also perform many public speaking exercises, as a clear, eloquent voice makes for convincing arguments in the courtroom.

Our Argonauts had their first taste of a court-in-action at the first JSerra Catholic High School scrimmage on October 28th. Bella Pham (11), Selina Huynh (12), and Isabel Ortiz (12) received medals as trial attorneys, and Axel Diller (12) received a medal as a witness. Isabel Ortiz (12) recounts the experience as nerve-wracking yet invigorating, but overall reflects that “JSerra is always an educational experience where we can get feedback from other coaches and schools. I’m so proud of our Red and White teams who gave it their all on the stand.”

After many more weeks of perfecting their opening statements, witness testimonies, and direct and cross examinations, our Mock Trial teams were ready to compete at their last scrimmage at JSerra on November 11.

In the first round, Garden Grove Red assumed the role of defense against Santa Ana High School’s prosecution, while Garden Grove White Team prosecuted Casey Davidson against N. D. Riverside. In the second round, GGHS Red prosecuted the defendant against Santa Ana’s defense, and GGHS White defended Casey Davidson from Northwood’s prosecution. Each courtroom held session for two hours.

The highlight of the event occurred in Courtroom Four between Garden Grove White Team and N.D. Riverside when the defense attorney from the opposing team tried to discredit the professional opinion of Devon Morrison, an expert witness (medical examiner) who is played by Argonaut Kellie Bendezu (11). The defense attorney rushed the cross-examination as he cut off Morrison’s answers mid-sentence, frustrating her, yet she was able to hold her composure while the members sitting in the audience watched the interactions between the two. Ultimately, Kellie’s excellent performance earned her a medal by the end of the session. “I thought it was exciting,” Kellie says. “This is my first year in Mock Trial, and I just realized how intense it could actually get in the courtroom. Overall, this was pretty fun.”

Other medalists of the scrimmage were Selina Huynh (12), Scott Belair (12), and Audriana Noonan (10).

By the end of the event, the coaches were proud of every team’s accomplishments. Chris Whittaker, their attorney coach, expresses, “Today was really good. The witnesses did a good job with difficult questions from the other side, and the attorneys did a good job with the opening and closing statements as well as questioning the witnesses.”

Now, at last, the real competition begins this Tuesday, November 14 at the Santa Ana Court House. Good luck, Argos, and may the verdicts be in your favor!