Dos Pueblos High School’s mock trial team has been chosen as one of 36 teams to compete in the Empire Mock Trial Association’s Empire City Invitational World Championship in New York City, which will be held October 25-28. The trip will mark the team’s first appearance at the tournament, but not its first win.
The Dos Pueblos team has gained considerable momentum in recent years, even coming in a close second in the state championship this March, losing by about one percentage point to La Reina High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Thousand Oaks. La Reina will be reuniting with DPHS in New York at the invitational, not only as the California state champs, but as the contest’s reigning champs.
The team members are especially excited for their upcoming trip, not only because it marks the first time in New York for many of the students, but because the tournament brings them to a whole new level of competition. The Empire City Invitational subscribes to college mock trial rules, meaning teams can freely employ accents, props, and exhibits to help make their case — tactics restricted under high school regulations. The new rules allow the students more creativity in their approach, not to mention charisma.
However, the new arena will present a few huge challenges as well: The case is a civil one, and the team has only ever argued criminal cases; also, the team must abide by federal rules of evidence rather than state law.
Team members have spent the better part of summer and fall familiarizing themselves with the ins and outs of federal law and otherwise preparing for the case. “We’ve been meeting to practice twice per week since mid July, sometimes even holding additional practices,” said Alison Mally, one of the team’s student captains.
The mock trial in New York will revolve around a fictionalized account of an actual case from 2007 in which a toy manufacturer was sued for using chemicals which, when ingested, convert into the substance gamma hydroxybutyric acid, GHB, also known as “the date rape drug.” Presented to the teams in a 170-page document, the mock trial case “Davis vs. Happyland Toy Co.” pits the plaintiff, a grieving family whose 2-year-old son died from swallowing the poisonous toy beads, against the defendant, a toy company that denies responsibility.
The nature of such competitions requires students to think on their feet, an ability teacher advisor Bill Woodard is confident this team possesses. “You don’t know what the other side’s going to argue,” explains Woodard. “They have to know the right objections, and [this group] is very skilled at doing that without missing a beat.”
The team has seen great success under the leadership of advisor Woodard and its dedicated attorney-coaches: Joel Block, Jeff Campbell, Scott Campbell, and Maureen Grattan. Grattan, Block, and Woodard will be joining the group in New York. The 11 members competing are: Mally, Hannah Cruz, Nimisha Shinday, Delia Bullock, Madeleine Centrella, Bela Lafferty, Madeline Matthys, Camille Wyss, Sophia Zheng, Sean Strong, and Ami Thakrar. Although 10 members of last year’s qualifying team were graduating seniors and, therefore, are not competing this October, Woodard doesn’t see the relative youth of this year’s team as a disadvantage. “The team is youthful but talented,” assures Woodard. “You forget that they’re high school students because they are so eloquent and professional.”
Aside from training as “attorneys” and committing every detail of the case to memory, preparing for this trip to New York has meant fundraising for the DPHS Mock Trail Team. They needed to raise $20,000 for the trip and have been generously supported by parent donations, member of the local law community, and through an online fundraising site, Go Fund Me. To contribute or for more information, contact Bill Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.