Anyone hearing strident exclamations of “Objection, your Honor!” or impassioned pleas regarding “burden of proof” and “reasonable doubt” when walking the hallways at Coast Union High School (CUHS) probably just passed a Mock Trial class session. For the first time, CUHS has Mock Trial as an elective class rather than an after-school club.
Mock Trial is an opportunity for secondary school students to learn about the court system and serve as attorneys and witnesses for the hypothetical case outlined in this year’s Official Materials for the California Mock Trial Competition, People v. Franks (a case regarding Robbery and Battery). The class is being led by Ogo Agbo, a first-year English teacher at Coast Union, and also is being coached by two seasoned attorneys who have generously volunteered their time. This is Agbo’s first time to be teaching Mock Trial, but she is thoroughly enjoying the experience and believes it will greatly benefit students’ ability to think and write logically in other academic subjects.
Jean Matulis is an attorney who serves as a volunteer coach. She has lived in Cambria for over 20 years and is recognized by the California State Bar as a specialist in appellate law. She is primarily coaching the students on pre-trial motions. Matulis remarked, “I love the law, and I love working with these bright, creative students. What more could go right!”
Mark Berry is another attorney serving as a volunteer coach. Berry practiced law in Los Angeles for 40 years before he and his wife Kathy moved to Cambria in 2016. He has tried civil cases around the country and continues to work part-time. This is his first year helping coach the Mock Trial class, and he stated that he is “enjoying working with the students and sharing what [he has] learned about trying cases in court.” Berry is helping the attorneys and witnesses hone their arguments, as well as practice responding to direct- and cross-examinations, both for prosecution and defense.
The class is comprised of ten students and, since the beginning of the school year, the students have bonded as together they have gone through the arduous task of making sense of a 96-page booklet of the official case materials Within these official materials from the Constitutional Rights Foundation are the official fact situation and stipulations of the case, exhibits to be debated during pre-trial motions, statements of charges, the individual witness statements from the victim, the defendant, and other individuals who are involved in the case, and more. There also is a 28-page rule book!
Coast Union’s Mock Trial class is relatively small, which has made it necessary for each student to take roles on both the prosecution side and the defense side of the case. In a larger class, students would only have one role. However, the students and coaches believe that, although the students will need to complete more work, this ultimately will help them become fully prepared for the competition. Since they are learning how to argue for both the prosecution and the defense, the CUHS Mock Trial students will be well-prepared to counter any arguments from the opposing teams.
The team is in the process of scheduling scrimmages with local teams, which will allow them a chance to practice facing off with unknown opponents. At the official competition, students will demonstrate their knowledge of the case and be scored according to extensive criteria outlined in the rulebook. The official competitions will begin in early February and are sure to provide edge-of-your-seat suspenseful entertainment.