SVHS Mock Trial team at state
JULIE EA, right, and Madeleine Connors, go over trial notes while Noah Huyette questions a witness during Tuesday's final tuneup.
Seventeen Sonoma Valley High School students will spend the weekend in the Riverside County Courthouse.
No, they aren't being charged with anything - they're members of the school's Mock Trial team and they're competing in the state meet this weekend.
The team - actually two teams, a prosecution team and a defense team - will be competing against about 40 other Mock Trial teams from around the state starting tonight.
The teams and Janet Hansen, the teacher coach, left the high school yesterday on a charter bus for the nearly eight-hour drive to Riverside. Attorney Coach Valerie Walter will jet down and meet the team in Riverside.
"We're going to watch courtroom dramas all the way down," Hansen said.
Tuesday evening, the two teams squared off against each other as a final tuneup.
The dramatized case the teams are prosecuting and defending involves cyber-bullying and assault with a deadly weapon (a brick) at a middle school. Every team in the state has the same case - People vs. Woodson.
The teams will be separated at the event as the prosecution team will square off against defense teams from other schools while the defense team will face other schools' prosecuting teams.
This is the third year in a row that the team has qualified for state. Two years ago, the team finished ninth.
"I'm a little nervous," said senior Julie Ea, 17. Ea has been on the team since she was a freshman, first as a witness, then as a middle attorney, last year as an opening attorney and this year she's the closing prosecuting attorney.
While she doesn't have any aspirations for a career in law, she enjoys the competition because it involves the elements of both acting and law.
The team has been practicing since it got the case last September. The event is timed for about a two-hour run and each side is timed for each of its segments.
Hansen said the team has scrimmaged about 10 times against various schools and had to win a tournament against schools from Mendocino and Napa counties in order to qualify for the state meet.
"We're the only school in the county to have a mock trial team," Hansen said.
The teams have been practicing four hours a week together but that doesn't include the time some of the students put in at night or at lunch.
During Tuesday's scrimmage, Walter acted as judge while Hansen sat in the back taking notes.
Prosecution witness Danny Maggioncalda, as Detective Cooper, told the judge what sort of evidence he collected and the people he interviewed. He pointed out on a map for the court where the assault occurred and testified about the brick dust he collected from the defendant.
Maggioncalda, 18, and a senior, is on the team for the first time. He loves it and is thinking about a career in law. Maggioncalda is excited about going to state and isn't the least nervous. "We're a good team," he said. "There's no need to be nervous."
The teams will have a match on Friday evening and as many as three more on Saturday. And if they get that far, the finals are on Sunday morning. Not only are there team awards, but there are also individual awards.
"We have real judges conducting the trials and attorneys scoring not only the teams but individuals," Hansen said. "Even if we don't finish in the top five as a team, I think we'll win some individual awards."
Individual awards include categories such as best witness and best attorney. There's also one for best timer.
Senior Luther Cenci, 18, is a defense attorney this year. This is the third year Cenci has been on the team.
"In the middle of my sophomore year, I got drafted as a witness," he said. For the past two years, he's been an attorney and delivers the opening statement for the defense as well as arguing in the pretrial as a prosecution attorney.
"I was a crazy cult leader my first year," he said.
Cenci was also in forensics, but dropped that because mock trial is more competitive. After participating last year, he managed to get an internship at a law firm in San Francisco. While he's looked at law school, he thinks he might participate in mock trail competition in college.
But he's calm about the weekend. "I've been to state twice," he said. "I've had the nervousness scared out of me."
Hansen has eight returning members from last year's team. She said the team has a lot of seniors, sophomores and freshmen, but few juniors.
Madeleine Connors, a 16-year-old junior, is a prosecution attorney and is in her third year.
"I started out as a witness," she said. Last year and this year, she's been an attorney.
"I think this is a great way to improve my public speaking skills," she said. And while Connors has been to the state meet the last two years, she admits to some nervousness.
The prosecution team includes Ea, Connors and Noah Huyette as attorneys, Maggioncalda, Eric Weber, Kaela Connors as witnesses and Delaney Gold-Diamond as the victim.
The defense team includes Cenci, Sean Hall and Reshma Varghese as attorneys, Alexis Krouzkevitch, Christina Uzzo and Hanna Bates as witnesses and Elyse Evkhanian as the defendant.
The team also includes timer Joel Bremner and bailiff Zach Prohoroff and team manager Olivia Connors.