Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 4, 2011


Host: Ted Simons

High School Mock Trial Program


  • Phoenix is hosting the National High School Mock Trial Championship May 5-7. Horizon takes you into classrooms and courtrooms as Arizona students compete to represent the State at Nationals. Guests include U.S. District Judge Stephen McNamee and Dewain Fox, a board member of the National High School Mock Trial Championship.
Guests:
  • Stephen McNamee - U.S. District Judge
  • Dewain Fox - National High School Mock Trial Championship
Category: Education

View Transcript

Ted Simons: The national high school mock trial championship takes place this week in Phoenix. We'll hear from officials involved with the event, but first, David Majure takes us to the state finals that took place at the end of March. ¶¶

David Majure: Commanding the courtroom and making their case. These are some of the finest pretend attorneys Arizona has to offer.

Cast of Character: Can you make this affidavit --

David Majure: By laying blame and casting doubt, this cast of characters seeks nothing short of victory and a spot in the 2011 mock trial championship taking place in Phoenix. Members of this team are from the Arizona school of Arts. They won the state championship in 2010. Now they are hoping to repeat, which won't be easy. Mock trial never is.

Mark Labouchere: Imagine you're really trying to get -- you know, trying to convict this person, really believe that. If you believe that, I think it will go much better.
David Majure: Months before stepping into the courtroom, students start prepping in the classroom.

Nicole Speth: May it please the court, counsel, Your Honor --

Nicole Speth: Two hours every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, a rehearsal plus memorizing everything and practicing everything. So it's a big time commitment.

David Majure: They'll have to argue a make-believe case written for the competition by legal professionals. This year it's about a young woman who pledges a co-ed fraternity and dies after drinking large amounts of water during a game called water jeopardy.

Student: She knew it could be dangerous.

Kara van Schilfgaarde: You have pages of information and affidavits and exhibits and evidence and you have to combine and condense it into a articulate well thought out argument you have to present in less than 35 minutes and that's really difficult. She didn't mentioning about threatened when she attempted to leave?

Michael Ryan: It's similar it a real trial. The only difference, there are time limited.
David Majure: Retired Supreme Court Justice Michael Ryan has been judging mock trial competitions for more than two decades.

Michael Ryan: I would and you say through the years, I wish I had you guys in front of me -- because you can put on a case much better than some lawyers I've seen.

Kara van Schilfgaarde: Hypothyroidism is just the kind of factor that would make a teenager more likely to die, isn’t that right?

Mock Attorney: I don't believe so.

Kara van Schilfgaarde: Ok. Let's go back a little bit –
David Majure: The students have to learn the case inside and out because during competition they rotate roles, sometimes the prosecution, sometimes the defense and --

Michael Ryan: And they don't know until right before they start which side they'll be.

David Majure: And they alternate between the roles of attorney or witness.

Mark Labouchere: The bottom line is - You've got to know your content and practice and practice and that's one thing that every team needs to focus on. What separates the good teams from the great comes down to presentation.

David Majure: That's something that you might think would favor a performing arts school.

Mark Labouchere: I think it helps. Our attorney coach laughs about it. For a school that's an arts school, you guys are awful actors. And in a courtroom setting, it's different like the way you approach it.

David Majure: This year, members of ASU's sun devil mock trial team helped them with their approach and in late March, the school for the arts sent two teams at the federal courthouse in Phoenix for the trials. They present their cases in front of real attorneys and judges, who either preside over the case or sit in the jury box, scoring the rounds.

Michael Ryan: They score solely on performance.

David Majure: Because most cases tend to favor one side or the other, winning isn't the ultimate goal.

Michael Ryan: So you could lose the verdict and the verdict could be against you, but you win. Because your performance was so well done.

>> Objection, Your Honor. Lack of foundation.

>> May I be heard?

David Majure: Big points are awarded to teams who can think on their feet.
Michael Ryan: Let's say someone is asking a question and there's an objection. And you ask the basis for the objection, and then you ask the student who is asking the question, what's your response? And that, you know, shows you a lot. If they can give you a good, clear response that's correct, that really adds to their score.

Nicole Speth: I guess objections would be my least favorite part. You have to think on your feet a lot and can't plan for who is going to object to what and what your response is going to be and what you have to object to, so --

David Majure: After each round, scores are tallied and the teams paired for the next round of competition.

>> 601 should be FTX.

David Majure: They are assigned a three letter code so judges don't know which schools they're judging. [Applause]

David Majure: Late in the day after completing several trials, the top two teams faced off in the final rounds. Last year's champ, the Arizona school for the arts was one of them. The other, a team from Tucson.

Student: A woman had died from drinking too much water. Objection, hearsay, probation.
David Majure: Blow by blow, strike by counter strike, they demonstrate what had mock trial has to offer.

Michael Ryan: I think the best deal about this program is that they learn about the legal system.
David Majure: They learn about the law but also build valuable life skills.

Michael Ryan: Exactly, I think it builds confidence.

Mark Labouchere: Their analytical ability. The way my students dissect their arguments is amazing. What I've noticed in the classroom it translates into the academic work. So they improve even as people.

Kai Song-Nichols: I think I’ve gotten a good deal of confidence, really. Like when I came in, like, I was very quiet --

Kai Song-Nichols: Could you please identify this document.

Michael Ryan: Many of these kids become attorneys. Many say I don't want to be an attorney. It’s too much work.

Nicole Speth: My mom is a lawyer and I don't want to go into law and everybody asks do you want to go into law? Your mom is a lawyer and you are in mock trial. No, I couldn't deal with the clients. So --

Student: It is fun. Competing is just a joy.

David Majure: But finding out who wins can be stressful. At the end of the day only one team would be state champ and that team was university high. [Cheers]

David Majure: The Arizona School for the Arts took second place but to justice Ryan, every team is a winner.

Michael Ryan: It gives you confidence in the future of this community and the country.

Ted Simons: We should note that although the team from Arizona school for the arts did not win the state championship, it will be competing in the national competition. Here to talk about the high school mock trial program is U.S. district court judge Stephen McNamee, a long-time supporter of mock trial and a judge in local and national competitions. Also joining us is Dewain Fox, a former mock trial student who went on to become an attorney. He has leadership roles in both the state and national high school, oh not high schools, mock trial programs. Good evening. Thank you for being here.

Dewain Fox: Thank you.

Ted Simons: We've got a lot of information there. Talk more, though, about just how you pick teams and how you pick students and who gets involved in all of this stuff?

Stephen McNamee: It's a volunteer effort. We see them when the competition, Dewain would know, but it's getting schools interested and getting a volunteer teacher and volunteer coach to work with these young people and they do a fabulous job.
Ted Simons: And I thought it fascinating these kids, these -- they have to argue both sides, they have to be witnesses too.

Dewain Fox: They do, and they have to switch off, back and forth, at the state tournament, they're guaranteed the opportunity to be the plaintiff two times and the defense two times so most teams have somebody play attorney on one side and witness on the other. At the national tournament, it doesn't have the same restriction.

Ted Simons: Talk about the Nationals. How many teams are competing this week?

Dewain Fox: We have a record number of 48 teams. The most we ever had at nationals before is 44.
Ted Simons: How do you decide who gets there? I notice the second place team from Arizona is going to be there. So who gets to be invited?

Dewain Fox: The second place team from here is going to be there because we have 47 teams and don't want to have a biased situation; we have to have an even number. Every state is entitled to send its state champion and we have four teams competing from outside the US. Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, South Korea, and we also have for the first time ever, Australia.

Ted Simons: And the cases themselves. These are fictional cases, correct?

Stephen McNamee: That's true, but based on real life events and they change every year and so it's always an interesting time for the kids to get involved with real life experience.

Ted Simons: What makes a good mock trial case?

Stephen McNamee: Well, I think you try and balance it out between -- there's no right or wrong answer to the case. It depends on each side has some good points and you have glitches in the case that you have to overcome. Like a bad witness or the witness has background issues, things like that that come out before a jury when you have to argue them.

Ted Simons: Talk about the caliber we'll see at the national event. The best of the best, I take it?

Stephen McNamee: Topnotch kids from all over -- really, the world and just wonderful things. T it's a great opportunity for Arizona. I can't tell you what a opportunity it is for Arizona.

Ted Simons: And Arizona has done well in the past in these competitions. You have first-hand experience on that?

Dewain Fox: We won in '97 and when I was coaching at Deer valley, we had a couple of runner-ups at the national level and before that, we in Arizona were the first state to win the national championship twice. Xavier college preparatory won the first time in 1987.

Ted Simons: We saw in the taped package. Saw some confident kids. Talk to us about what is learned and the progress that one of these competitors goes through.

Dewain Fox: When they first start out practicing, they really don't have a lot of skills, don't have knowledge about of the legal rules, the rules of evidence in particular. And that's the job of the coaches of the teacher and attorney coach and frankly that's one of the things that was always exciting when I was coaching is to see the development of these kids. You start out with a student who is the one boy on the tape pointed out he was quiet, didn't know what to do. And now he's very confident and he's a very good mock trial performer.

Ted Simons: Interesting. What do judges look for, the criteria -- what do you keep an eye on?

Stephen McNamee: The performance and the adherence to the time limits. Everybody has a time limit and they've got to do an awful amount of work, a great quantity of work within a given time frame and you have to make judgmental decisions what to include and exclude and there's choices you make along the way that affects your case.

Ted Simons: And public speaking and presentations and convincing arguments. All factored in?

Stephen McNamee: All factored into and we look into persuasion. How persuasive? And how much they adhere to the rules? And are they ethical? And honest to the approach to things.

Ted Simons: Talk about the benefits to the program.

Stephen McNamee: You get a lot of benefits. You get public speaking and confidence and team building and strength of character. Discipline. You learn how to operate as a team. Adaptability, time management, ethical considerations which develop into life skills that are applicable throughout your life.

Ted Simons: And not all of these kids as we learned from the tape, not all go on to become attorneys do they?

Dewain Fox: No, they don't. When I participated, I wasn’t planning to be an attorney but working with the Deer Valley program, I decided that's what I wanted to do, but as the judge pointed out can these are life building skills regardless of what you do in your future life.
Stephen McNamee: I run into somebody at the grocery store and they'll say, you were my judge at mock trial and here's what I'm doing now and go on and on got benefits they got from the program. It's a tremendous character-building activity.

Ted Simons: Thank you for being here.
Stephen McNamee: Thank you for having us.

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