The Mendocino Beacon
Mock Trial team readies for San Luis Obispo competition
In February, a team of Three Rivers Charter School students and their teacher will travel to San Luis Obispo to compete in a Mock Trial competition. Mike Lang, the 7th/8th teacher at the school, has been training a team of middle school students to perform in a mock trial in a court of law. While they hone their skills for the upcoming event, they are also fundraising to meet travel and motel costs.
Mr. Lang has experience in Mock Trial competitions dating from his high school days as a Mock Trial team member. Now coaching a middle school team, Lang sees the potential of increased student interest in mock trials now that the team sets out for actual competition. Establishing any new after-school program for students can be a daunting task.
Starting the team had its drawbacks. Lang concedes that “there are no other middle school mock trial teams in northern California. The only other middle school teams in the state are one in Ventura County, some in Los Angeles County, and some in San Luis Obispo County.” Due to Los Angeles County’s decision to hold virtual competitions again this year, the upcoming San Luis Obispo County event is the only in-person opportunity for his new team this year.
Lang sees this event as a learning experience for his students. “The biggest takeaways for me with this competition,” he said, “are the opportunities to travel, meet kids from other areas of the state, compete against them, and really get a chance to spend a few days with your team somewhere else and explore a lot of places that kids around here don’t get to explore.” He plans to include a tour of Cal Poly before the team returns home.
Lang had also reached out to Mendocino and Fort Bragg middle schoolers to join his team, but the response was small. Lang suspects that the requirement to commit to three to four months of training and practice lacked appeal. The team traveling to San Luis Obispo consists of fifteen students, most from his 7/8 class at Three Rivers Charter School. He will also take two sixth graders and one student from Fort Bragg Middle School.
While a Mock Trial team has prepared for a given case, they have only a few hours notice as to
whether they will be competing as the prosecution or the defense in an actual courtroom before an actual judge. Students perform all the roles of a defense or prosecution team and other necessary roles such as bailiff and clerk.
Last December, the team watched a competition in Mendocino County. They will gain initial experience competing against an area high school this month and then later by attending a high school scrimmage meet in Middletown. Lang is hoping these trial runs will not have a negative effect on his inexperienced students. He said, “Any competition we have will be against high schools, and it’s great that we’re going to see a lot things we don’t think of. The downside is that I don’t want them to get discouraged either since it is against high schoolers.”
The scope of the competition process is vast. Competing teams receive a 100-page packet that establishes the only material that attorneys may use during the pre-trial and actual trial, including prior constitutional law rulings regarding the legal basis for a judge’s decision to allow the trial to proceed. The rolls are based upon the provided evidence, such as defendant, victim, prosecution and defense attorneys, witnesses, experts, a court journalist, artist, bailiff, and clerk.
Using only the packet, the team prepares for both prosecution and defense. They will not be informed which side of the case they will be presenting until the morning of the competition. An actual judge presides over a bench trial which means that the will attorneys direct their case to the judge for his final decision. Actual attorneys also sit in on trial, take notes and score the students’ performances. Afterward, they provide feedback to help students improve.
Lang’s team will be participating in three rounds over three days. With a small team in tow, students will be prepared to play a variety of roles rather than focus on only one part to play.
Recently Land appeared at a Fort Bragg City Council meeting to draw the council members and, hopefully, the community into supporting the students. “It is difficult and daunting to pay for a big trip like this,” said Lang. A few businesses and some generous people have already donated. He cheerfully added, “I’ll take a dollar on the street if someone will give it to me!”
If you are interested in providing financial support to the Three Rivers Charter School Mock Trial Team, contact the school office at 707-964-1128.