Central declared Mock Trial winner

February 27, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

Pandemonium broke out in federal immigration Judge Dennis James' El Centro courtroom Tuesday night — and no one was cautioned by the bailiff or found in contempt of court.

Central Union High School had just been declared the winners of Imperial County Mock Trial for the 2001-2002 season and the trial team and its supporters in the well of the "court" were not reticent in showing their elation.

Defeating Holtville High School with a victory of only one point, the El Centro school is now headed for the next level — the state finals in San Jose next month.

Central's teacher coach Ron Nicholson stood proudly on the sidelines along with the team's attorney coach, Bill Lehman, and spoke of the concentrated effort and long hours his team put into preparations.


"I want to emphasize the hard work these kids put in; they cancel their social life for this and they have to juggle their other commitments — they don't get any breaks."

Nicholson said in the time he has been involved with mock trial, Central has had 11 wins at the county level and gone on to win the state championship in 1998. Central also had a win at state level in 1986.

The brainchild of the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a non-profit and non-partisan community-based organization, the concept of mock trial was introduced into the Los Angeles school system in 1977.

Expanding to the state level in 1980, the program now involves schools from more than 35 California counties. Imperial County's involvement with mock trial began with the 1983-1984 school year. Mock trial now involves some 8,000 students statewide in California.

Each year CRF presents teams with a new hypothetical criminal case, one that invariably incorporates important legal issues facing American society.

Competing teams, assisted by a teacher coach and volunteer attorney coach, prepare and present the trial from the perspectives of the prosecution and the defense.

Team members are assigned the roles of the various courtroom "players"; there are trial attorneys, pretrial motion attorneys, witnesses, clerks and bailiffs.

The competition is sponsored locally by the Imperial County Bar Association and the Imperial County Office of Education.

This year teams from Central Union, Southwest, Imperial, Brawley, Holtville, Calexico and Vincent Memorial locked legal horns.

Each Tuesday night for the last six weeks, the teams would meet in the Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro and alternately prosecute and defend the hypothetical case of the People vs. Price.

The trials were presided over by local judges and the teams' performances were scored by local attorneys.

For the final trial, the setting traditionally moves to Brunner's Restaurant in El Centro, where there is sufficient seating for the large number of spectators.

An elated Central team member, 17-year-old senior Monica Signorotti, conceded she was extremely nervous waiting for the winner to be announced.

"I was really, really nervous. I was just so relieved once it was all over with. I couldn't believe it — I was so happy."

When asked if she and fellow team members could expect any special concessions next school day for bringing home the trophy, Monica smiled wistfully and said "Well, I might be able to convince Mr. Nicholson (he's my English teacher) to give us a bit of a break on the homework tomorrow — but I'll have to work hard to convince him."

For further information on mock trial visit the CRF Web site at

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles