Org of the Week: Mock Trial hones future legal talent

Mock Trial members sit through a run-through of the previous week’s dress rehearsal. Comments are always positive and constructive, but the atmosphere remains tense before the big tournament./ Courtesy of the Miscellany News

Mock Trial is a world in which fancy suits, fast talkers and infuriating objections collide to form an experience which is anything but ordinary. On any given day, you can walk into practice and see a witness crying on the stand or hear objections that range from the serious to the absurd— for example, arguing over the witness’ capacity to judge a person’s eyes.

It all begins with a case packet, a hauntingly bulky thing which spells out the case we will be trying and offers affidavits for all of the key witnesses involved. This year, our fictional defendant, Dylan Hendricks, is charged with the attempted murder of Kerry Bell Leon, the spouse of an individual he met on Tender, the mock trial version of Tinder. It is thus our job to take these affidavits along with the evidence we have been provided and structure our own argument.

The case file becomes as familiar to us as a well-read book, and Dylan and Kerry as familiar as old friends. Lawyers practice their speeches to their roommates, and witnesses recite their lines to their friends. Over the course of the year, the legal system takes on a very different meaning for us. No longer something that operates in an unconnected sphere from the reality of our lives, we must know the court room and the intricacies of a trial inside-out. We imitate, on a small scale, the legal quest for truth, justice and answers.

The case itself is fascinating. The spouse who allegedly ordered the murder of her scorned partner is in South America and is unavailable for questioning, whilst the only two witnesses of the crime were under the influence of a memory-altering street drug. The case packet is filled with tantalizingly specific details: the defendant, Dylan Hendricks, owns his own soup truck. On the night of the alleged attack, Kerry Bell-Leon bought a chowder dish prepared by the individual she would later accuse of attempted murder.

The best part of Mock Trial is that each team gets the opportunity to try the case from both sides, playing prosecution and defense. Even among ourselves, we are separated into prosecution and defense teams, meaning that there is always a playful rivalry that exists among us as we each attempt to advance our side of the case. By this time in the Mock Trial season, the characters have become much more than just words on the paper, and even I can admit, as a member of the defense, that I get a little touchy when the prosecution makes jokes about our client Dylan Hendricks.

While many people think about lawyers when they hear Mock Trial, our witnesses are what make our case shine. Each witness is only given a small amount of background information and a two or so page account of what happened through the point of view of their character. They are then tasked with the job of inhabiting this person, taking on their traits and attempting to answer questions in the way their character would. It is they who withstand the fire of the opposing team’s cross examination and are forced to rise to the challenge, often stumping the opposing lawyer with their crafty answers.

For witnesses like Kerry Bell Leon (Stephanie Palma ’20), Bailey Bell Leon (Hanna Hertzler ’21) and Morgan Jones (VP of Finance, Pietro Geraci ’20), their goal is to appear as the most believable witness as they tell their side of the story. Most of our non-attorney members play more than one character, sometimes even on opposing sides.

Witnesses can range from victims and friends to highly complicated experts. They are often doctors or individuals who work in the sciences and are hired by each side. They attempt to use the technical aspects of the crime in order to advance a certain agenda, namely whichever side of the case they have been paid to represent. This year, we have three experts, two in telecommunications and one in the barely pronounceable field of pharmacokinetics. As our pharmacokinetics expert, played by Imogen Wade ’19 [Disclaimer: Wade is an Assistant Features Editor for The Miscellany News], can testify, being a witness is much more than just learning lines. Wade had to learn about the pharmacokinetics herself, even decoding an enigmatic formula that her character used to conduct their analysis.

Wade remarked: “Constructing a character for the witness I am playing is incredibly rewarding. I have decided to play Doctor Ryan Reeves as arrogant, intelligent and umcompromising. It is liberating to have this freedom with a character as an actress. I know I can take it in any direction I like. I have also really enjoyed working with the Mock Trial team this year, as the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed.”

I can certainly “testify” to the veracity of this statement. Personally, I find the org inclusive. As long as you are passionate and dedicated, you will be welcome. I am hoping to specialize in Constitutional Law, and I welcome the opportunity to add relevant experience to my resume.

It is the job of attorneys, such as myself, to lead our witnesses in direct questioning and protect them from traps during cross examinations. Being an attorney means always having your ears pricked and never fully sitting back in your chair. You never know when you will have to leap up and shout “Objection!” Coming up with ways to prevent harmful testimony from being entered is often a combination of well-reasoned objections and some more questionable ones. Our prosecution attorneys this season are Mock Trial President Jesser Horowitz ’19, Vice President Jemison Tipler ’20 and Suhas Yernool ’21. I work for the defense alongside Secretary Dylan Hendricks ’20 and Charlotte Waldman ’21. It is a dynamic and exciting team, filled with big characters and talented lawyers.

This year’s Mock Trial tournament takes place between Feb. 24 and 25 at Princeton University, where Vassar will compete in the same league as other teams such as West Point and Yale. Despite being a relatively new team, we are confident in our preparation and look forward to being able to show our skills.

If you are interested in learning more about mock trial, please contact any of our executive board members. Who knows, next year it could be you!

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