Mock Trial never loses its appeal

By Hazel Schaeffer

“There was no deer. There is no doubt. Find her guilty,” Samantha Gupta ’12 said when she gave her closing argument in Mock Trial. Mock Trial finished its season with a seventh place ranking at Nationals in Minneapolis. Though a very competitive
finishing, they moved down three spots from the year before.

“We were pretty upset,” said Gupta, the only one out of the team’s three graduating seniors who has participated since her freshman year. “Last year we set the bar too high.” Still, it was their first consecutive year placing in the top ten out of the 48 teams at nationals, “so we should be happy with how we did,” added IndiAna Gowland ’13. Mock Trial

Each year, teams are given a packet of documents with all of the facts, case law, and witness statements to use for a single court case. This year’s case was “a drunk driving/murder trial. An individual had allegedly gotten drunk at a bar and had driven allegedly recklessly home, had gotten into an accident and killed the passenger in his or her car,” Josh Rubin ’12 said. Starting in the fall, Mock Trial breaks up into several teams which play the attorneys and the witnesses in the case. Lawyers compose their own statements and witnesses create a character based on the sworn witness statements. Unlike a real case, no verdict is delivered. Instead, two judges score the witnesses and attorneys on their performance on direct examination, cross examination, and opening and closing statements on a scale from one to ten. Each judge separately tallies up their vote to determine who wins their ballot. The judges often frustrate the team. “It’s like a Miss American Pageant,” Gupta said. “There’s not really criteria [for judging]. At the end of the day, it’s just them picking a number and writing it down.” “The most annoying thing is when scorers say, ‘I didn’t like when you admitted something bad for your side of the case.’ Well, I’m kind of constrained to the facts that were provided for me,” Gowland added. “Then they say, ‘Well you shouldn’t have agreed to that fact.’ But it’s a fact,” Gupta said. A Performance There can be disjoint with the styles of the other teams, too. “[University of Virginia] almost went out of their way to not prove things,” Gupta said. “They would not even bother to offer evidence that would help them because it’s boring or it’s a waste of time, but [instead] have a funny witness. Forget about the speed calculation for the defendant’s car.” “We struggle hardcore with understanding that it is Mock Trial. It’s all about scoring points and putting on a play. There is nothing for case theory,” Gowland said. Some of the team members did Theater in high school, and Gupta and Rubin are both members of Macalester’s Bad Comedy sketch club. “There’s a lot of overlap. Being funny is a big advantage,” Rubin said. “A theoretically funny person might excel,” added Gupta. Courtroom demeanor

The team also struggles to set the right tone and is working to have a less serious demeanor in court, to lean back in their seats and be more playful and confident. “Our motto for nationals was swagger,” Gowland said. “Normally the critique of Macalester Mock Trial is that we are very serious and boring. We generally have very good attorneys and expert witnesses but we fall flat on the character witness because we just play them as very normal people.” So this year they tried to switch things up. One member played a Jersey Shore-inspired bartender. Rubin, dressed in green, played his witness character as Kermit the Frog. “We were sitting in practice over J-term and wondering how we can make this interesting, so we started trying to do a southern accent and that wasn’t working very well. One of our coaches asked, ‘Can you do any other accents?’ and I completely joking said, ‘Well, I can do [the witness] as Kermit the Frog.’ I said a line and he said, ‘Ok, we’re doing that, ’” Rubin recalled. “At first we were going to do it for just one round. We were convinced it was going to score twos, people would be like, ‘This is unprofessional, inappropriate for Mock Trial. You can’t have a Muppet on the stand,’” Gowland said. But their risk paid off. “Judges would point it out: ‘It was great. I would just say, more,’” Gupta said. The good tears Emotions run high during tournaments, especially Nationals—the final competition for Gupta, Rubin, and Nathaneal Smith ’12. “I cried as I was giving a closing. You’re trying to be emotional, your giving this speech and I was like, oh, I’m crying, I’m just going to go with this and pretend it is emotion over this fake victim. Yes, this is normal,” Gupta said. “But those are the good tears.” Gowland also cried on the witness stand. “It was not intentional. My [real] mom was watching and I was describing waking up in the hospital room with my mom sitting next to me. In my head I imagine my mom having to come to the hospital after I had been in a car crash and how traumatic it would be for her, and I would start crying,” Gowland said. But tears are not always strategic. “My low point this season, we had this judge that was very frustrating and we really thought that we had lost the ballot,” Wade recounted. “It was against a team that we really should not have lost against and I started crying. I was completely hysterical and out of control, which is really embarrassing and unprofessional.We won, though not by as much as we should have, so it was completely unfounded.” Team dynamics Mock Trial describes itself as a “family.” “I think you can see based on how we act in [court] recesses that we are a really close team,” Gupta said. “Other teams kind of spread out; we just come into a circle. I don’t know how or why, but we just do immediately. It’s cathartic, therapeutic. It would be insanity if we didn’t have those moments.” Competition between team members is minimal, Wade claims. “Everything is a collaborative effort,” Gowland said. “So even if one person is performing, you know you gave them the ideas that made it good. … All of the decisions we made, we debated them, for better or for worse, as a whole group.” “Something might go over poorly, but it’s not that person’s fault because we all told them to do it.” Wade said. From 73rd to ninth, a record improved In 2009—when Gupta, Rubin and Smith were freshmen—Macalester’s Mock Trial program was ranked 73rd in the country by the American Mock Trial Association. This year they took ninth place, an impressive turn-around in just the past three year. Members are quick to attribute their ranking improvement to the efforts not just of their coach but of alumni coaches who stuck around, attending practice sessions and tournaments, in addition to holding full time jobs. Strong individual and group performance has also been key. Each member of the team has accumulated a number of awards during their Macalester Mock Trial careers. Gupta said that in her resume for law school she wrote down “every stupid award [she] ever won, even the really illegitimate ones like Best Witness at the St. Olaf Invitationals. A lot of schools in their acceptance letter write these little hand-written notes. For most people it would be like, ‘You’re work with refugees is inspiring’ and for me it was ‘Good job on Mock Trial?’ I read it what that inflection.” Now Gupta, along with Smith, can add another All-American Attorney to her list. The team also took home the sportsmanship award “We’ve also been really lucky having a team where I don’t think there’s any drama or any power struggle. In an activity like this, it’s sometimes unusual,” Gupta said. Still, they bicker. Take the following conversation: Gowland: “Our coach says in order for you to be good at Mock Trial, your ego needs to be greater than or equal to two times your talent. Smith: “No, less that one and a half times your talent.” Wade: “That doesn’t make a
ny sense. Why would it have to be less, then it could be anything?” Smith: “Fine, screw the stupid equation. The point is we’re all arrogant.”