Mock trial is serious business for high school teams

Mock trial is serious business for high school teams

Experts who let their credentials lapse, a mother who cleans her house when not being a spokeswoman for a water company, a defense witness who is a longtime friend of the accused.

Mass emails! A million dollars in bottled water! Enough water-based puns to sink a ship! 

The Jan. 24 mock trial of the State of Maryland vs. Sam S. Saratoga was a legal thriller as Thomas Stone High School portrayed the prosecution against North Point High School as the defense.

This year marks the 34th annual Maryland State Bar Association’s mock trial competition which strives to bring about an understanding of the rule of law, court procedures and the legal system along with bettering reading, writing and listening skills. The program also fosters communication and cooperation between the school system, the community and legal system, according to the state bar association’s website.

The current case is brought against the fictional Clearwater Springs City Public Schools Superintendent Sam S. Saratoga. Saratoga is criminally charged with reckless endangerment for knowingly and willingly replacing bottled water in Clearwater Elementary with alleged lead-laced water from aging pipes. The state alleges this switch resulted in the medical issues of a student, Perrier Pamukkale. Saratoga was further charged with misconduct in office, a civil offense.

At the school level, mock trial team members are given roles from a designated case — either prosecution or defense, Nicki Patel, a North Point junior, explained. After scrimmages against classmates, the team faces off with those from other schools.

Patel will portray prosecution witness Tai Tiamat in an upcoming competition. She took notes Tuesday on what to do and what not to do when it’s her turn on the witness stand. She’s been in mock trial for three years, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Kirti, a senior, who portrayed Dr. Terry Tatio, an expert witness for the defense at Tuesday’s trial.

“It’s a good way of learning to think on your feet,” said Patel, who is planning on studying medicine in college. “Mock trial forces you to think in the moment and helps with your confidence.”

“It’s a lot of work,” Madalyn Peets, a Thomas Stone sophomore who was a prosecutor in Tuesday’s competition, said. “We work during Cougar Time, after school and do work at home. It takes a bunch of time to practice.”

Students on both sides are given a 72-page booklet which includes everything they need to know to prosecute or defend the case. It includes affidavits, emails, press releases, charging documents, witness backgrounds, reports and credentials.

Each session is overseen by an attorney who volunteers. Brooke O’Connell, law clerk for Charles County Circuit Court Judge Amy J. Bragunier, heard the case of the State v. Saratoga on Jan. 24.

O’Connell suggested team members study all the roles in the case, not just their own and offered advice for future match-ups. “I commend you for your work,” she said. “I know it was not easy, but the only way you’re going to get the benefit from this is through feedback.”

“Witnesses — you need to know your facts cold,” O’Connell said. “Be prepared for the other side to use your words against you. Attorneys — you have weights in your feet. It’s alright to walk around the courtroom, but don’t turn your back on the judge or the witness.”

This year, all but two of the season’s 12 mock trials are being held in a new location, but one with judicial credentials — the Historic Port Tobacco Courthouse. The remaining two will be held at the Charles County Courthouse in La Plata. 

Mock trial, managed by the Citizenship Law Related Education Program, is a little theater for a lot of benefit.

“They’re analyzing documents, they’re analyzing situations, they’re presenting arguments and they’re doing it effectively,” O’Connell said. “They’re using oratory skills, thinking skills. It allows for debate, rationally and professionally. They really have to hold their own.”

Six of the county’s seven high schools have a mock trial team. Local competitions are held January to March. The teams with the highest record in each of the state’s eight regions — Charles is in Circuit 7 with Calvert, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties — advance to the regionals. From there, the winners compete in semifinals and can go on to the state championship.

About CCPS

Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event. 


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