If dedication to learning the intricacies of trial procedure is an indication of success, then the Ann Arbor Community High School Mock Trial team will be a formidable opponent when its members participate in the National Mock Trial Championship May 14-16, in Raleigh, N.C. Approximately 50 teams are expected to participate.
The team has compiled an impressive track record. Before advancing to the national level, it won the regional and state mock trial competitions. The Raleigh trip marks the fourth time in the last five years the team has gone to the finals, faculty coach Chloe Root said.
The judges in Raleigh will hear a tort case involving negligent hiring and battery. The complaint, brought by a 19-year-old college track star and Olympic hopeful, claims a shot from a security guard's Taser caused the teen-ager to tumble down a flight of stairs. Serious injuries ensued. As a result, the plaintiff contends that any Olympic aspirations that existed before the fall were crushed.
At the national competition students will face teams from across the U.S. and other countries. Last year teams from as far away as Australia and New Zealand were represented. This year a team from South Korea is expected to attend, Root said.
A handful of volunteer attorneys and judges, along with a drama instructor, assist Root as she prepares the team for the national tournament.
Attorney coach Trent Collier, a partner at Collins Einhorn in Southfield, is one of the mock trial team's attorney coaches. He works with the team on hearsay, the rules of evidence, and helps team members polish their scenes for the finals.
Collier said the students develop a genuine sense of legal professionalism that evokes positive comments from sitting judges and attorneys.
"The kids are really open to feedback, the more viewpoints we have the better the end product will be."
Collier recalled an observation a sitting judge made about the team.
"He said he had to remind himself that these are high school students," Collier related.
The students are not the only ones who benefit from Collier's coaching.
"Working with the students invigorates my practice. When I was in high school I could have no more done a mock trial than flown to the moon. These kids are so motivated," Collier said. "It is a real joy to watch them master the laws of evidence and how to perform in court civilly and respectfully."
Coach Root shares Collier's sentiments.
"Former coach Cheryl Grace asked me if I 'd like to become involved. I came to a few practices and was easily hooked. I really enjoy the process," Root said during a short break from one of the many team run-throughs.
This year is the first time the team has made it to the national competition solely under her tutelage.
Although quick to acknowledge the successes of her predecessors, Root is happy that her efforts have also been fruitful.
"The success of the mock trial program was built on other coaches' efforts so I felt lucky to be around for the ride," Root said. “This is the first team that I have coached all the way through, so I guess I am doing okay."
In addition to emphasizing the law, Root calls attention to the importance of strategy.
"Mock trial is a lot more strategy than theatre," she said. "This is like an intellectual sport for the kids."
Accordingly, student lawyer, Sara Jackson, 16, has sharpened her skills in her role as plaintiff's counsel.
"A huge part of the trial is reading the judges, so one of the most important things we do is to have guest judges come to our practices," Jackson said. "We have been working really hard."
For the mock trial team hard work means practice, practice and more practice.
Since the beginning of April the team has spent four to five hours a night, four nights a week studying the case, learning the rules of evidence and honing their ability to switch roles from defense witness to plaintiff's counsel. Spare time is often spent on fund-raising events to help finance the trip to Raleigh. To that end the team has its own Facebook presence and a funding page at IndieGoGo: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/community-high-school-mock-trial-team-to-nationals.
Avery Farmer, a 17-year-old junior at Community High and a veteran competitor on the national level, echoes the team's attitude toward the Raleigh competition.
"The national tournament is a fun experience," Farmer said. "We push ourselves really hard. You always have to be on your 'A' game."
By Linda Laderman
Published: Thu, May 07, 2015