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Mock Trial Team Makes Impact at Nationals

March 24th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 338-8727
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

 

Some of the 2009 Mock Trial participants -- from L to R, Paul Morin, Krystal Brunner, Jonathan Carden, Carmen Pettus, Jonathan Roose, Cate Pilgrim

In their first year of competition in the American Mock Trial Association, ten Patrick Henry College students traveled to an opening round of the national tournament in Easton, PA, brushing shoulders with Ivy-Leaguers from across the nation. PHC’s strong first showing included victories over two top schools—Pennsylvania State and Elon University. Perhaps most impressive, according to Dr. Frank Guliuzza, coach of PHC’s mock trial team, is that PHC “started four months behind and ended in the top third of the nation.”

While most colleges began preparing at the start of the school year, in August, PHC students did not have time to focus on mock trial until the moot court season ended in January.

“We didn’t get from zero to 60, but from zero to – oh, about 48.5 miles per hour – pretty quickly!” says Guliuzza.

A mock trial case typically requires from two-and-a-half to three hours to complete. Each team fields three “attorneys” and three “witnesses” per case, witnesses playing any one of eight characters, depending on which of the season’s pre-programmed witnesses the attorneys call to the stand. Attorneys are graded on their ability to examine the other team’s witnesses, as well as on their knowledge of law and procedure. Witnesses are judged on their knowledge of the affidavit for that year and on their ability to portray their given characters.

“[Debate] is a simulation, like running on a treadmill,” explains Guliuzza. “With mock trial, it’s like you’re in an actual courtroom.”

Along with sheer analytic skill, mock trial also tests one’s dramatic ability. Junior Cate Pilgrim, a veteran of several Eden Troupe plays at PHC, finds mock trial a natural fit. As journalism major, she became, in the mock trial setting, an appropriately passionate journalist—complete with props and attire.  But even more than the cases themselves, she has benefited from the unique people she has met through mock trial. At the regional tournament in Louisville, for example, where she and others qualified for the national tournament, Pilgrim said she was privileged to hear several successful men and women volunteer their wisdom.

“After our first defense round at the Louisville tournament,” Pilgrim recounts, “one of our judges [Mr. Charlie Rickitts] looked around at the room full of eager pre-law students and said, ‘We need you in the halls of justice.’ Rickitts had become a lawyer long ago after being a Capitol Hill journalist during the Vietnam War, while working for the FBI. The time he spent communicating his passion for integrity in law to us – the ‘next generation’ of Americans --was not wasted; it was the highlight of my weekend, and indeed, of my mock trial experience.”

Students from other schools commented on their blogs about the PHC team members after their qualifying tournament, some describing them “the nicest people in the world,” a “force to be reckoned with,” and even, imbued with the “strength of five wild wildebeests.” The PHC team members, meanwhile, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. As senior Krystal Brunner says, “We’re not lacking in theory, only in polish—and that can be fixed!”

At the start of the year, the American Mock Trial Association boasted 607 competing teams. As Patrick Henry College progresses in this league, it will lock horns with Harvard University and other Ivy Leagues. Dr. Guliuzza, who has been on the national board of the AMTA since 2003 and who is the Chair of the National Tournaments Committee, says it is a challenge befitting the College’s growing record of accomplishment.