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A Case of Competition : Judges Deliver Verdict in Student Mock Trials

December 13, 1985|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

Yes, your honor, there was a crime in Sierra City on the night of Feb. 6.

Some person or persons vandalized the computer room of Sierra City High School, spraying it with red paint that read: "Taylor is a Fascist."

Moreover, the culprit got access to the school's computer code and changed student Karen Dennis' computer-course grade from B to A.

Was the criminal Karen Dennis herself?

Yes, beyond a doubt, argued the prosecution----played by students from El Dorado High School in Placentia.

No, the girl is innocent, argued the defense----played by students from Los Amigos High in Fountain Valley.

"It was one of the toughest cases we've ever had to decide," real-life Orange County Superior Court Judge Richard Beacom said at the conclusion of the mock trial Thursday night in the Orange County Courthouse. Beacom said that he and Orange County Superior Court Judge William Thomson agonized before reaching a verdict.

Judge Commends Teams

"I want to commend both teams for excellent, high-quality performance," Beacom said. "It couldn't be any closer, both in verdict and in terms of competition."

But the verdict, Beacom said, went to the defense. The 1985 Orange County high school mock trial championship also went to that defense team from Los Amigos High, Beacom announced. And then cheers erupted from the classmates of the victorious team.

The scene was Department 1 of Orange County Superior Court Thursday night. The event was the final round of the Orange County Constitutional Rights Foundation's fifth annual mock trial competition.

Seated at the prosecution table were Kathy Powers, Robert Galvin and Tyler Bryson, all 17 and all seniors at Placentia Unified's El Dorado High. Their job was to convict the fictional "Karen Dennis," who was played by Los Amigos High senior Annika Rahm, 17.

How Competition Works

Seated as counsel for the defense were 16-year-old Los Amigos High juniors Kayo Fujioka and Jeff Gurner and senior Bill Peterson, 17. All live in Fountain Valley, but the school is part of the Garden Grove Unified School District.

The case was based on a fictional script given to each of the 37 Orange County high schools participating in this year's mock trial competition. "A real judge first gives the verdict, then awards the winning team in each round," said Laurie Smith, coordinator of the mock trial.

She added: "Very often, the side getting the verdict doesn't win the competition."

But in the finals Thursday night, Los Amigos High won both verdict and championship.

Both sides had judicial stars, Beacom noted. Galvin of the prosecution gave a graphic summation of the case and won one of the plaques awarded to "best attorneys."

But defense counsel Gurner likewise won a plaque for his rebuttals, objections and questioning of the evidence. Perhaps cinching the defense's case was the defendant, played by Rahm, who was among the winners of plaques for "best witness."

Purpose of Trials

The purpose of the trials, according to the nonprofit Constitutional Rights Foundation, is "to introduce students to our complex judicial system and demystify the legal process."

As winner of the Orange County competition, Los Amigos' team will compete in the state mock trials in March in Sacramento.

After the trial Thursday, Beacom told the Los Alamitos team: "If you will come into my chambers after the awards, Judge Thomson and I will give you some advice and try to enhance your chances in Sacramento."

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