The newly formed Mock Trial club at Cal Poly will be going to the Great Western Regional competition on Feb. 17 and 18 at the University of Southern California.
The club was formed at the beginning of this year and is going to the Von KleinSmid Center to be judged on a case study they have been preparing for since October.
“We were already late in the season,” said Matthew Moore, club adviser and political science assistant professor. “Most teams saw the case studies in September, we didn’t get it until late October; they’ve been working like crazy.”
Teams compete in groups of six to eight and go through the case twice as the plaintiff and twice as the defendant with some students acting as lawyers and the others as witnesses. Cal Poly will bring a team of nine to the competition. The extra person will be the time keeper.
The teams are judged on their basic legal knowledge in areas like courtroom procedure, relevant objections, and how well the group puts together an argument. This year the Mock Trial team was given a fictional civil suit in which a police officer used excessive force and shot a teenager.
The case is almost 200 pages long and consists of documents, maps, pictures and witness statements.
“There are tons of witnesses that have some skeletons in their closet that make them potentially unreliable,” Moore said. This is where the team must choose witnesses and evidence carefully to build a compelling case. Yet, any team can lose the case and still win the competition, Moore said.
“There’s a performance quality to it that’s kind of fun,” he added. “You have to figure out what your team thinks and then you can only call three witnesses.”
As Cal Poly prepares for the regional competition, they are hoping to go on to the national competition in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Beyond that, there’s the championship level, but this is our first year. We are trying to be modest about it,” Moore said.
The team has been scrimmaging for the past couple of weekends against nearby schools. And while scrimmages can last up to four hours, the team has also been watching video footage from last year’s competition and working with attorneys to hone their questions and responses to objections.
“We’re hopeful; you never know, it’s our first year there,” said club president and political science junior Lauren Laiolo. “We figure it will be a good experience and we’ll know what to expect more next time.”
Laiolo was the one who first brought the idea of having the club to an Undergraduate Law Association meeting. “It was a lot of paperwork, we had to fill out by-laws and the charter,” she added.
Working with Moore as the adviser, Laiolo distributed flyers and advertised by word of mouth through the political science department. The club was formed with about 14 students, and a list of names was sent to the American Mock Trial Association to become official.
“For college (Mock Trial) got started 10 years ago,” Moore said. “It was really a student-driven thing, nearly 50 people expressed interest.”
With such a high demand for the novice club, in the future, Mock Trial will be offered for credit through the political science department.
Moore mentioned that for the Mock Trial class, there’d be some kind of limit to the number of students that could take it for credit. Yet, for people who aren’t able to take it for credit or don’t want to, the ASI club will continue to persist.
All are welcome to join the club to experience life in the courtroom. For Laiolo, the club will help her in her future plans to become a lawyer.
“I’m trying to get into law schools, but also it’s a just a great experience,” she said.