State Mock Trial champs compete at national round in Oklahoma

Issue June 2006 By Seth M. Boyd

At 7 on Saturday evening, May 13, the Boston Latin School Mock Trial team members are settling into their seats at the awards banquet in Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center. As Massachusetts state champions, they’re representing the commonwealth at the National High School Mock Trial Tournament.

The arrival of the banquet is a sign that the hard work is over. The team arrived in Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon, giving them less than a day to get settled before the two-a-day trials on Friday and Saturday. Just hours before the banquet, the team learned it did not advance to the championship trial, but they do not yet know the results of any of their four trials from the previous days. Though they are clearly tired, spirits are high.

During the banquet, the top 10 finishers are announced and Boston Latin School is not among them, meaning the team will have to wait until they are home to find out that they finished 2-2, in 24th place overall. In a 44 team tournament, the performance is respectable. However, during its time in Oklahoma City, the team is far more focused on the overall positive experience than on whether they are winning or losing.

“They’re a very self-critical group,” notes attorney coach Lauren McDonough, a public defender in Quincy. She says the team is more focused on living up to its own high standards than on trial results.

McDonough and her fellow coaches — Sean Cronin and Michael Tumposky, a criminal defense lawyer in Boston — say the team has a solid understanding of the subjective nature of Mock Trial results.

This year’s case involved the second degree murder trial of a rodeo rider accused of cutting the “hack rein” of a fellow rider, leading to a fatal accident. The students were given the case six weeks before the tournament began, which did not give them much time to switch gears after winning the Massachusetts state tournament — involving a product liability case — on March 29.

After a final cram session in McDonough’s hotel room the Thursday night before trials began, the students arrived at breakfast on Friday morning, excited to start the tournament.

Outside the courthouse, the team gathers in a circle and each member is given a chance to say a few words about the challenge that lies ahead. After some last-minute coaching, the team heads in to face its first opponent.

After day one of trials, a win over South Korea and a loss to California, the students notice some of the differences between the national and state tournaments’ time-keeping and scoring systems, most notably the presence of a “jury” of three scoring judges (in Massachusetts there is only one judge per trial). All season long, the students playing witness roles had been coached to address their answers to the presiding judges, but during a critique after their first trial, the presiding judge notes that they must address the jury directly, an adjustment they make in their remaining trials.

Differences aside, once the competitions begin, “You start living the trial,” says Monica Mleczko. “There’s an adrenaline rush at first, but then you just get into Mock Trial zone and it’s not that different.”

At the end of day one, what the students really want to talk about is their coaches. ‘They’re amazing,” the students say almost in unison. “We’ve learned so much from them” says Lisa Jing. Mleczko adds, “They make it fun!”

In court, the Boston Latin School students exude confidence and competence. Each of their four trials are closely contested and they emerge from each one feeling as though they may have won. Even as the competition draws to a close, they are still sure to critique their performance in each trial — even though the season is ending and they may not have a chance to use the information in another trial together.

On the final day of the tournament, the students win their morning trial against Delaware before losing a closely contested trial against Arizona — the eventual sixth place finisher. After the banquet, they walk along the narrow canal that runs through Oklahoma City’s “Bricktown” section, an activity they chose over the “70’s themed dance” back at the Cox Convention Center.

At this point, they don’t know whether they have won or lost their trials, or what their national ranking will be, but it doesn’t seem to matter. What seems important is that they are together, at the end of their season, in “Mock Trial World.”