Mock Trial heads to nationals


The verdict is in.

The University of Pittsburgh Mock Trial club was found guilty of third-… The verdict is in.

The University of Pittsburgh Mock Trial club was found guilty of third- and sixth-place finishes in a regional tournament in Gettysburg last weekend.

This allows the club’s A and C teams to compete in St. Petersburg, Fla., for a chance to move on to the National Championships held in Iowa.

The club had a good run in the recent Gettysburg regional tournament, defeating teams from Cornell, the University of Virginia and Colgate University.

Pitt junior and Mock Trial President Ethan Kate stressed how much time each member prepares and practices for each tournament. He said that during the two- or three-week period before a tournament, club members meet almost every day.

“You can win the case but lose the round,” Kate said, adding that judges count poise and speaking ability as well as how well the students prepared for the case. “It’s not strictly based on your argument,” he said.

Kate won an individual award for his role as an attorney, and he was the only student to achieve a perfect score at the tournament.

Two other students won individual awards as well.

The teams consist of three witnesses and three attorneys for each side. They are assigned a case that they prepare for throughout the year. The case switches between civil and criminal, and this year it asks the students to deal with the alleged kidnapping of a child by a family friend.

In competitions there are two rounds of prosecution and two rounds of defense, during which students try to score as high as they can out of eight, which is the number of ballots cast by the judges.

This is another good year in the club’s seven-year history, which has seen the organization grow from one team to three.

Last year was the first year that two teams from Pitt qualified for the national tournament.

In Gettysburg, the A team scored 6-1-1 and the C team scored 5-3, with the B-team bringing up the rear with 4-3-1.

Kevin Kelly, co-captain of B team, said that although the team won’t advance to the Florida tournament, it was still a good year for the team, which had three new recruits to the club.

“It was a good year, I was proud with how they performed,” Kelly said.

Kelly originally joined the club after he saw it in high school. He decided to try a club in which he could compete academically and as part of a team.

“I signed up and never looked back,” Kelly said.

The competitions are based around a modified version of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which lay out how evidence can be introduced and used in a courtroom.

“It’s very interesting to understand objections made in court and how evidence is deemed admissible,” Kelly said.

For Kelly, who plans on attending law school after he graduates, this allows him a chance to get as close to working a case as he can.

“I really enjoy the law, and being able to practice it in the courtroom to a certain degree is fun and interesting,” Kelly said.

Sheila Isong, a member of the C team, joined in the fall almost by accident, since she discovered a club flyer on the walkway bridging Forbes Avenue and decided to attend.

“You meet so many interesting people,” Isong said, adding that it’s not just potential law students who join, although her participation in the club has focused her interest in that area.

“For me, it kind of solidified my interest in law,” she said.

Ed McCord, director of programming at the Honors College and Mock Trial sponsor, has been amazed with the club’s progress and achievements over the last couple of years.

“We are very privileged at the Honors College to have them and support them,” McCord said. “It’s great that we’re winning on the academic fields as well as the athletic fields.”

McCord said he was amazed by the club’s community involvement; since the Mock Trial club hosted a couple of events to mentor high school mock trial clubs. The first event, held last year, drew around 200 high school students and officials, McCord said.

“All of that was over the top,” McCord said.

McCord said that a lot of the praise for the club’s success rests with Jennifer Shively, a lawyer with the Pittsburgh Public Defender’s office. He said that she took time out of her schedule to mentor the Pitt club and help them study and prepare for their cases.

Isong also praised Shively for meeting with the group more than four times a week and making sure they are prepared for the tournaments.

“She goes to great, great lengths to make sure we know the laws,” Isong said.

In Mock Trial, it’s incredibly important to know the law, Isong said, because it’s harder to be the prosecution, since the defense only has to affirm reasonable doubt in the case.

“It’s kind of like the O.J. case: The glove didn’t fit so there was reasonable doubt,” Isong said.