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Mock trials: Practice is key to success for high schoolers in the courtroom

February 12, 2001|By KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writer

When Ann Garcia thinks back to her time as a member of Brawley Union High School's mock trial team in 1985, she laughs.

"I was the clerk," she said, grinning.

"It was a lot of fun. I was so nervous," Garcia remembers.

As a GATE student, Garcia had to participate in mock trial as part of the curriculum. She chose one of the less-prominent positions on the team.

"For me it (the hardest part) was the stage fright," Garcia, now the mock trial coordinator for the Imperial County Office of Education, said.

Sixteen years later, nervousness still fills the courtrooms during mock trial competitions, though it lessens as the series continues.

During the most recent set of trials Thursday, it was clear mock trial participants had worked out many of the kinks from their performances and gained a certain level of comfort in the courtroom.

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During her opening statements, Calexico defense attorney Aina Torres paced casually across the courtroom, owning the space as she explained with forceful confidence what the defense would do and prove during the trial.

"Things get smoother. They use notes less and less," said Brawley Union mock trial coach David Schofield of student performance as the competition continues.

During the annual competition, all teams argue the same case in multiple trials over the course of the event, allowing them to hone their performances with every trial.

The Imperial County competition is set up in a round-robin fashion, allowing every team to compete against each other.

Unlike the power match style of competition in which winners play winners and losers play losers, the round-robin version offers more total trials and an even number of matches for each school's prosecution and defense teams.

"It gives them more practice. That's especially important for the team going to the state championships," Garcia said.

Practice has been the key to Central Union High School's success.

"They're the hardest workers," Central attorney coach William Lehman said of the El Centro school's winning formula.

Working six hours a week with the team for the past four months and countless hours individually in front of bathroom mirrors was Central's recipe.

Central coach Ron Nicholson thinks all the hard work is worth it.

"I love the law," he said.

"I'm convinced this is the finest intellectual exercise students can engage in," Nicholson said.

Though Central has dominated the county competition by winning 10 of the past 11 championships, Nicholson thinks the competition is getting tougher.

Randy Rutten, a civil law attorney from El Centro, has served as a scoring judge for mock trial for 15 years. He agrees other teams have made significant improvements over the years.

"Teams from other cities are doing better," Rutten said.

"It used to be Central and Holtville were the strongholds," Rutten said, adding teams such as Vincent Memorial and Calexico have made their presence known in recent years.

Rutten thinks the improvement may come from longer hours of practice and better techniques taught by attorney coaches.

Garcia sees the difference in the students from her days of competition.

"I think the students are a lot more articulate, more prepared," Garcia said.

Whether winning or losing, everyone agrees students deserve compliments and congratulations on all their hard work.

"We hope the community pays more attention," Nicholson said.

The next set of trials will be Feb. 20 at the County Courthouse in El Centro. The final match to decide the county winner will be Feb. 22 at Brunner's in El Centro. Both events start at 6 p.m. and are free to all who want to watch.

Staff Writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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