EL CENTRO — A 30-year high school tradition continues this year as the annual High School Mock Trials Competition, run by the Imperial County Office of Education, begin at the El Centro Court House.
Mock Trial is a role-playing activity in which the students learn about the process and content of law in an exciting and fun way with participants assuming the roles of lawyers, witnesses, bailiffs, clerks, and jury, to act out past court cases.
The Constitutional Rights Foundation has sponsored the Imperial County Mock Trials since 1981 when the program first began. Since then, it has grown in both popularity and prestige, with each local school district boasting a skilled and competitive team.
The case for this year involves human trafficking, and the teams will reenact every round of the trial for the duration of the competition. Each time it is performed, the students could either be placed on the defense side or the prosecution, and participants must stay on their toes even if there are familiar elements in the case. The teams never know whether they will be the prosecution or the defense before a match.
Five Imperial County high schools are competing this year for the title of Mock Trial IV champion.
“They give me goosebumps when I watch them, they’re amazing,” said Bates. “I think the students who leave here are very well prepared because they over come so many things people are nervous about like public speaking and thinking on their feet.”
Every night an Imperial County judge presides over each case. Attorneys and judges score the students on their performance, scores that will be added up over the course of the competition. After the round is over they are there to take questions and offer advice to the students to help them improve.
“It helps in public speaking, in just building confidence, being in a crowd and being confident to get up there and speak, to raise objections and think on their feet,” said Drew Williams, one of the four lawyers who were judging the cases, “It’s beneficial whether or not they go on to law school or anything else they do in their life.
The students are all eager to do the cases, seeing it as a challenge that they will use in the future law school endeavors and just for life in general.
“It really teaches the people who are in it how to speak on their feet and that’s a skill that’s hard to find,” said Brawley Senior Brandon Goddard, “Plus it throws a bit of flavor in your mannerisms.
“I love the fact that yes, a lot of it is practiced, but most of it is spontaneous and you never know what is going to happen with each team,” said Southwest Junior Henry Liera, one of the students who did not show apparent fear or feel nervous in the court.
“I like the competitiveness and I really like arguing a lot,” said Central Senior Natalia Rojas. “And I do get nervous, but that’s because I care so much about it because I am a senior so I’m really going to miss it when I graduate.”
The winning school goes on to compete at the California State competition in Riverside this year. From there, the champion moves on to the National Mock Trial held this year in Hartford, Connecticut.
The last time an Imperial Valley team made it to nationals was in 1998 when Central Union High went all the way to Washington, D.C. In addition, the 2015 Central team moved close to competing in the nationals again when they came in second at the state level.
The Central team said they hope to make it that far this year after holding the Imperial County title for the last two years.
“We have been practicing a lot of hours, a lot of weekends, and we put in a lot of work into it to keep the trophy here at home,” said Central Coach Anna Vizcaino.
The dates for the next rounds are as follows: Jan 31, Feb. 2, Feb. 6, and the finals on Feb. 9.