Order in the court: Mock trial team places third at Regionals

Megan Ruane, Contributing Writer

The mock trial team traveled to Baltimore to compete in the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) Regionals held at the University of Maryland School of Law from Feb. 18–19. The University group competed against four other teams: one from Delaware University, one from Ursinus College, and two from the University of Maryland.

The team placed third out of 24 teams, with Johns Hopkins University and the University of Rutgers coming out just ahead of them. Individual members of the team also performed well: Nikki Marrone ’20 and Priyanka Junankar ’17 both walked away with a top witness award and a top attorney award, respectively.

The mock trial team was founded three years ago during Junankar’s first year at the University. When she arrived on campus, students were attempting to organize a mock trial team, but were unable to be officially recognized due to busy schedules. Junankar then decided to take matters into her own hands and took over the team as president.

During the summer of 2014, Junankar worked closely with Dianne McDonald, the pre-law advisor in the Career Development Center, to have the University’s mock trial team recognized within the AMTA. Their efforts proved successful, and by the fall semester the team began participating in competitions with other schools.

“We have a lot of talent from each year group, so if they all stick with the team and recruit some of their friends, I expect to have some very competitive teams in the future,” McDonald said. “Doing as well as they have this year should earn next year’s team some invitations to some of the more competitive tournaments that are held in preparation of the Regional Tournament.”

At the beginning of each school year, every team recognized by the AMTA receives the same case documents, which consist of 130 pages of rules, case law, witness statements, and exhibitions. From there, the team works to prepare a case theory for both the defense and the plaintiff. The team is not aware if they will compete as the defense or the plaintiff until 30 minutes prior to the start of the trial. The team also works to craft opening statements, direct and cross-examinations of every witness, and closing statements. In the fall, the team competes in several invitational tournaments and a few scrimmages with local teams. In the spring, the regional competition is their main focus.

A trial in the competition typically lasts about three hours. Each side presents three witnesses that are both direct and cross-examined by the opposing team, and at the end of the trial the closing arguments are presented. There is a presiding judge that makes rulings on objections during the trial, and there are two other judges that act as the jury who score each statement, examination, and witness. These scores ultimately determine the winner of the trial.

In addition to the legal side of the case, a major factor in scoring is performance. This means the team must use proper courtroom etiquette and vocabulary. When working on performance, the team also focused on public speaking, projection, and confidence.

According to Adam Drake ’17, this dynamic is what makes the mock trial team unique.

“It is a great way to develop public speaking skills and the ability to think on your feet in pressure situations. Even if you’re not interested in law specifically, the skills you gain are applicable to every field,” Drake said.

During her first year as president, Junankar often felt like she was “the blind leading the blind.” There were many times in which her teammates would ask her basic questions regarding mock trial rules and she would have to look them up herself. When asked about her thoughts on how the team has progressed since its creation, Junankar expressed her pride in how far the team had come.

“There were times where we went into trial feeling so prepared and were caught off guard within the first 15 minutes. However, two years later we are competitive with the best schools in our region,” Junankar said.

The University’s mock trial team will head to the University of Delaware School of Law at the end of March to participate in the Opening Round Championship Series. If they advance from there, they will move on to compete in the national tournament this summer.

“We have a few hurdles to overcome, such as spring break falling in the middle of our preparation time, but the students are hard workers, and I think they will be ready by March 25,” McDonald said.

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