Mock Trial Becomes Real at UCI

This year at UC Irvine, undergraduate students interested in the field of law will be able to experience their own courtroom dramas, rather than just watching them on television.
The new Mock Trial club begins its first year at UCI this fall. Its founding members plan to build a competitive group that will participate in exchanges with other colleges and ultimately compete in tournaments held by the American Mock Trial Association.
‘Mock trial is something you can actually participate in and get a feel for what a lawyer or witness does and how a trial really works,’ said Nada Rastad, a second-year English major and team manager for the new club.
At the beginning of each year, AMTA announces the case that college mock trial teams across the country will spend the year working on; this case will be the focus of the regional and national competitions.
For this year’s case, which is a child kidnapping case, UCI Mock Trial has received the case summary, witness statements and exhibits.
‘That’s basically all you get.’ Rastad said. ‘So from there, you’re studying all the materials and building your case.’
The students on the team will do their own research to find applicable case law and other supplemental materials in preparation for the exciting part: the courtroom competition.
In late January 2006, the UCI Mock Trial team will head into an actual courtroom to compete in AMTA’s regional tournament before an actual judge.
‘The pressure of the courtroom is pretty intense,’ Rastad said, who will be acting as lead defense attorney.
That courtroom pressure is one of the reasons the founders of UCI Mock Trial consider the experience a positive one for the individuals involved.
‘It’s such good practice for people who want to become lawyers,’ said Anh Pham, a second-year economics major and club member. ‘Even if you don’t plan on going into law, [mock trial] helps you out with your public skills, speech skills and analytical thinking. It helps you a lot in life and in school.’
Anh’s opinion is shared by other members of the club.
‘[Mock trial] improves your people skills,’ said Yvette Shirinian, a second-year political science and anthropology double major who will be the lead prosecution attorney for the UCI Mock Trial team. ‘You learn how to establish relationships with people in a competitive environment, and having a presence in the courtroom teaches you how to conduct yourself professionally.’
The UCI Mock Trial club will be coached by attorney Michael R. Bruggeman, a UCI alumnus, and will also be advised by William Thompson, a professor of criminology, law and society.
The club has created a team that is divided into two groups: prosecution and defense. Each side will have a lead attorney, two other attorneys and four witnesses. On each side the witnesses will comprise of the defendant or plaintiff, an expert witness (usually a medical doctor, scientist or other professional), a character witness (someone who can testify to the character of the defendant) and an event witness (someone who can provide support for the events of the crime).
‘Witnesses get to be actors,’ Rastad said. ‘The more charismatic a witness can be on the stand, especially some that have improv experience, the better it turns out for the case.’
Rastad sees the drama department as a potential source for convincing witnesses who are comfortable performing.
‘We had people on our witness team in high school who froze up, and the attorneys on the other side totally took advantage of that,’ Rastad said.
Sharooz Shahandeh, a second-year history and international studies double major, heard about the mock trial clubs at UCLA and USC from friends who had joined last year.
‘[UCI] didn’t have mock trial and I wondered why,’ said Shahandeh, who plans to act as a witness in the competitions. ‘I think it’s about time we had a mock trial club.’
The students behind UCI Mock Trial hope that their club will benefit UCI.
‘[UCI Mock Trial] could be a great asset for UCI,’ Shirinian added.
Though there are a limited number of students per team, there is no limit to the number of teams a school can submit to AMTA’s competitions.
‘Anybody who wants to be on the team right now is welcome to,’ Rastad said. ‘We’re not doing auditions. We just want to get as many people involved as possible.’
The 2006 Regional Tournament will begin during the last weekend of January and will span a four-week period, with one competition per week, allowing UCI Mock Trial’s defense and prosecution sides to each compete twice. A judge will decide the outcome of each trial, and three observers in the jury box, who may be judges, attorneys or other professionals in the legal field, will give a score to each opening statement, closing statement, witness, lawyer and examination.
‘They score individual performance by each person so you could get more points and actually win the round without winning the trial,’ Rastad said.
The purpose of the regional tournament is to select teams to compete in the national championship, which is scheduled to take place from April 7 to 9. Teams that fail to qualify for the National Championship by a small margin will be able to compete in one of two national tournaments in St. Petersburg, Fla. and St. Paul, Minn., scheduled for March. The winning team at each of these tournaments will earn a ‘wild card’ qualification to the championship.
‘I have such big ambitions,’ Rastad said. ‘I want to get to national competitions this year. I think if we put enough hours in, we can. As we go down the line, the more experience we get, and the more we become established at UCI, I think we’ll just keep getting better and better.’
More information on the American Mock Trial Association and its competitions may be found at Starting Week 1, the club meetings will be held on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. in HH 118. For additional information, e-mail