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OC HIGH / STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : Laying Down the Law : Mock Trial Programs Allow Students to Get Training in a Courtroom Setting as They Present a Criminal Case

January 13, 1994|ELIZABETH WYDRA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

"Good evening, your honor, my name is Elizabeth Wydra, counsel for the defense."

Usually it takes years of schooling to be able to say those words in front of a judge. But thanks to the Mock Trial program at many Orange County high schools, students get a chance to present a criminal case before even graduating from high school.

At Rosary High in Fullerton, where I am a senior, the mock trial team is composed of 25 juniors and seniors who take on the roles of attorneys, witnesses, understudies, bailiff and clerk.

Instead of law school, our training was an intense month of instruction in objections, question-writing and speeches, constitutional precedents for the pretrial motion, the subtleties of presenting a case in court, as well as constructing a case from the point of view of the prosecution and defense.

Our teacher sponsor, Sharon Mulherin, worked with us every day at lunch and at all of our after-school practices. And we were coached by attorneys Glenn Osajima, a criminal defense lawyer, and Jan Sturla, a deputy district attorney, both of whom volunteered their time.

This training is typical of most hard-working mock trial teams.

However, at Rosary, there is something unique about our team: We are all young women. We are accustomed to the stigma that can be attached to coming from an all-girls school. And at mock trial competitions, we have often faced some ignorant assumptions about how good a team from a "girls school" could really be.

My teammates and I, however, are more than happy to demonstrate the error of that way of thinking. Last year, our team was one of the top four schools in Orange County. And this year, we won the county championship. (Rosary, which beat the team from El Dorado High School at the finals in December, will now go on to represent the county in state competition.)

The mock trial program, sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Orange County, helps participants develop a multitude of skills applicable to the courtroom as well as other careers and aspects of life.

For students who are planning to pursue a law career, the mock trial program is invaluable. First, I found out whether I even liked being an attorney. Last year, when my objection as a defense attorney was sustained, I knew I was hooked. And it is exciting to see my generation's excitement about the legal system.

Through the program, I have learned to think on my feet and improvise. I have learned how to speak persuasively, even when the facts don't. And I have learned the importance of teamwork--that people depend on me, whether it be my teammates or the person I am trying to defend.

I look back on all that I have learned, but most of all how much I've enjoyed this program. It has taught me the fundamentals of real life, and when I get out of law school and into the courtroom, it won't be for the first time.

Behind the Mock Trial Program

The mock trial program for Orange County high school students is sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Orange County, a nonprofit organization established in 1981 to provide educational programs for youth. Since then, more than 25,000 Orange County teens have participated in the group's programs, including a law day, business issues conference and the mock trial competition.

A record 50 high schools participated in the 1993 mock trial competition, involving about 1,200 students. The 10-week competition began in fall and ended with the finals in December at the Santa Ana courthouse. The state competition will be held April 8-10 in Sacramento.

Twice in the past four years a team from Orange County has won the state competition. Each year, attorneys in Orange County donate more than $3 million worth of billable hours to the competition, assisting as coaches and helping to plan the competition.

And the Winners Are . . .

Fifty Orange County high school teams participated in the 1993 mock trial competition sponsored by the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Orange County.

The Top 10 schools in this year's competition were:

1. Rosary, Fullerton

2. El Dorado, Placentia

3. Saddleback, Santa Ana

4. Mission Viejo, Mission Viejo

5. Valley, Santa Ana

6. Esperanza, Anaheim

7. Woodbridge, Irvine

8. Dana Hills, Dana Point

9. Corona del Mar, Newport Beach

10. Loara, Anaheim

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