Mock trial prepares case for competition

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The University may not have a law program, but some students on campus are preparing their legal teams for a trial with serious consequences.

The parts are fictional, but the stakes are real. The mock trial team is ready to compete in a battle of wits, knowledge and improvisation against schools from around the country.

The case? A wife is suing a diving company because her husband is dead after not returning from a diving trip.

Who’s at fault? The company, says student witnesses representing the prosecution. Others say it was the husband’s fault.

There are two major roles in the mock trial, prosecutors and witnesses, said coach Neil Browne.

At tournaments, different schools face off by taking turns playing the various roles, either arguing for or against the scuba company. Judges, as in real life, determine the outcomes. In lieu of verdicts, teams get a score based on their performance.

The best scores, Browne said, go to the cleanest arguments as well as best presentations.

Teams win “if you look like what you say you are,” the coach said. “Does the witness look like a grieving wife?”

For the University team, sophomore Cassie Baker is one of the featured witnesses.

In one scene she is River Tran, a medical expert hired by the prosecution to testify against the company. Tran, an expert witness, uses evidence like breathing rates and oxygen levels to argue that the scuba company was at fault.

Rated as one of the top 50 witnesses in the country, alongside fellow teammate Chelsea Brown, Baker must show versatility in her roles, answering any and all questions which come her way and framing the blame to whichever party her characters require.

Yes, characters.

In the next scene, Baker also plays Angel Duncan, a deckhand on the company ship. A stark contrast to the other role, Duncan testifies in favor of the scuba company as part of the defense.

Baker descibes the character witness as a more comfortable role. Expert witnesses, like the River Tran character, must display a wide knowledge of their subject matter and provide a sharp, authoritative analysis of scientific data. Duncan, meanwhile, gives a first-hand account of the events on the ship and is “more of a normal person,” Baker said.

The University team is a part of the American Mock Trial Association, which hosts tournaments throughout the country. The association, formed in 1985, features 600 teams from over 350 different universities and colleges, according to the AMTA website. In Ohio alone, 16 teams from various schools such as Ohio State University and the University of Toledo participate in mock trial.

“A lot of people think mock trial is going to be a bunch of serious, pre-law students,” Baker said. “It’s more like a life skill being in this.”

Baker is far from the serious, pre-law stereotype. A psychology major with a love for acting, mock trial provided an outlet to play a part, and compete while doing so.

With highly rated witnesses and an “All-American” attorney, the University team competes well despite a lower budget than other schools, Browne said.

“It puts the school on the map,” he said. “It feels good to beat teams with more money and training.”

Such teams await them at 2012 Happy Valley Invitational later this month hosted by Penn State University. Competing against sixteen other schools, including Harvard, Yale and Georgetown Universities, the tournament should offer tough opponents.

Baker said traveling throughout the country gives the team a chance to compare style differences between colleges from each side of the country. Eastern teams like Browne’s are more stern and direct while western schools tend to be open and friendly to the jury, Baker said.

Most importantly, Browne stresses to his team to think on its feet. While they prepare extensively for certain arguments and trial strategies, its often difficult to predict exactly which direction opponents will go, Browne said.

In other cases, teams must adjust to situations brought on by themselves.

Like when several members forgot their shoes and dress shirts for a tournament, Baker recalled, laughing, and paid a stranger to borrow the proper attire. Or the time when someone opened with the statement “I’m here to represent the prostitution,” Browne remembered.

With an exhaustive amount of articles and materials circulating amongst the team regarding scuba diving alongside practicing for several hours a week, the team feels prepared to take on larger schools in tournaments, Baker said.

Not only is she ready, but River Tran and Angel Duncan are prepared too. No matter which side wins, the grieving widow or the scuba company, Baker and the team can win, so long as they are who they say they are.

“I’m a competitive person, so it’s nice to get out and see other colleges and try to beat them at something,” she said.