WHS Mock Trial team ranks third in Ventura County

GUILTY AS CHARGED: The WHS mock trial team accepts the third place award at the 2023 Ventura County Mock Trial Competition award ceremony after seven rounds of competition.


GUILTY AS CHARGED: The WHS mock trial team accepts the third place award at the 2023 Ventura County Mock Trial Competition award ceremony after seven rounds of competition.

The annual Ventura County Mock Trial Competition took place Feb. 6–9 at the Ventura County Courthouse. WHS’s Mock Trial team competed against 26 other high school teams and took home five individual awards while ranking as third overall in the county, the second highest ranking the team has received in WHS history.

“Throughout the year we prepare … a prosecution side and a defense side, so when we go into competition, one of our sides, say our prosecution, goes against another team who argues their defense side,” said Kayla Maxedon, Mock Trial advisor and Honors and CP Biology teacher. “We go through the whole trial [and] then the next round … our defense side goes against another school’s prosecution side. What they’re really looking at is how well do students know the law, how well do witnesses help with the case and contribute information as well as just general ‘thinking on your feet’ kind of stuff.”

The team won one pre–trial award, one defense attorney award, one clerk award, and two witness awards. These awards are granted to students who present particularly strong arguments or create especially convincing characters.

“We work to present the best team, and in presenting the best team sometimes you have people that standout and … go above and beyond,” said Maxedon.

Practices began in late September when all Mock Trial teams received a case to review, this year’s being a robbery and battery case. Over the span of nearly five months, members wrote and memorized speeches and arguments for either a charge of guilty or not guilty on the defendant and even had the opportunity to work with real lawyers. Teams were scored based on their performance rather than the outcome of the case.

“It’s really a game of preparation over pure talent,” said co–captain Luke Jones ‘23. “I think that the team environment is also a great way to learn to cooperate with people because you can’t do it by yourself … There’s just so much reading, writing and memorizing … That’s why we only do one competition, but we prepare for five months.”

Members typically dedicate seven hours a week preparing for the competition, practicing every Monday and Thursday from 5–7 p.m. as well as Saturdays from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. However, the rewarding experience of competition makes many Mock Trial members feel the intense time commitment is worth it.

“When you’re passionate about something and it piques your interest, … the seven hours feels like three hours, and practice can go by [in what feels like] 30 minutes,” said co–captain Aviv Stabinsky ‘23. “[Spending] hours and hours every single week is intense, … but in the end when we come together for the tournament and we get to put on display what we’ve been working towards — that’s my favorite part and that’s kind of why everyone does Mock Trial.”

This year’s Mock Trial team included two freshmen, nine sophomores, four juniors, five seniors and only three four–year seniors. However, the uneven distribution of experience among the team did not hinder their ability to succeed.

“It’s really not about the experience of the people. It’s about how much they want it,” said Jones. “Certain teams do well every year not just because of the people, but because of the program — the type of environment the people facilitate and what’s been carried down from past programs.”

Mock Trial can open up many doors for students’ futures as they learn the workings of the legal system. While some in Mock Trial initially joined because of an interest in a law career, other members’ experience in the team has made them consider a future in the legal field.

“[Mock trial] is a nice introduction to the law and how it works. Being able to conduct all the examinations and the entire trial in a real courthouse … proliferates that experience.” said Stabinsky. “I kind of joined with no expectations, and now I’m leaving with certainly an appreciation for what it’s given me, an interest in the law and perhaps a [career in] that field. Before Mock Trial, I always thought [STEM–related fields] was where my future would be, and … now I’m more geared towards humanities.”

Although the idea of presenting speeches to a large audience intimidates many, Mock Trial members encourage students to step out of their comfort zones and improve their public speaking skills while gaining new confidence through their Mock Trial experience.

“I think the best thing that I’ve gained [from Mock Trial] is learning that the only way to get better at something is to do it,” said Jones. “Being scared of something isn’t a good reason not to [try] it.”