The Whodunit of 756 Dead Sheep (and Other Tales from the National Mock Trial Competition)

“Calling the case of Illan Zabala versus Luz Bennett and the Flying B Cattle Ranch!”

Following three consecutive years of losing his sheep to the Bluetongue virus at the Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Picabo, Idaho, Illan Zabala files a lawsuit against his suspicious ranch competitor Luz Bennett. My role? A witness – the 62-year-old veterinarian Dr. Sandy Murphy. My statement? That the claim is absurd. It is impossible to suggest that Bennett intentionally poisoned Zabala’s sheep. What I say happened? Gnats in the area carried Bluetongue and nature merely ran its course.


WFS_Mock_Trial

The 2016 State Champion Delaware High School Mock Trial Team ~ Wilmington Friends School

For the past two years I have participated on the Wilmington Friends School mock trial team, each time serving the role of a witness. It is, without a doubt, one of my most memorable high school extracurricular experiences. We compete each year in the Delaware High School Mock Trial Competition; in 2015 our team placed fourth in the state, and this year we won the State Championship and went on to be the first mock trial team from Wilmington Friends School compete at the national level.

Eight team members. One timekeeper. Delaware against forty-five different states.

Last week the Delaware team spent three days in Boise, Idaho, spending time not only competing against other teams, but also immersing ourselves in the rich Basque culture and meeting individuals from all across the US. From the Pin Exchange – where every team member swapped each one of their 40 official state pins with those handed out by students from different states – to eating from food trucks, watching traditional Basque dancers perform in the streets, and even relay-racing the Wyoming team in the hotel’s swimming pool, the trip was not short of unforgettable experiences.

I am proud to work with such an incredible team, and we have been fortunate to have had two exceptional attorney coaches, Ericka Johnson and Jody Barillare, as well as an amazing group of parents willing to volunteer and dedicate their time to helping the team. The team practiced twice a week in preparation for the State competition, and then three times each week leading up to Nationals.

Yvonne Takorian Saville, the current president of the Delaware Trial Lawyers Association and parent of a team member, shared, “Having spent 20 years in private trial practice in Delaware, I wanted to help [my son] and his friends have a fun experience while learning about the nuances of trial work.” Saville has helped the team with both our state and national cases, and plans to continue doing so next year.

But Saville says perhaps one of the team’s advantages didn’t have much to do with her coaching. “I attribute much of the success of this year’s team to the relationships the teammates formed with each other and the value they placed in working together as a team. Watching them perform has been so much fun.”

Ericka Johnson, who has been a Wilmington Friends mock trial coach for nine years and is an attorney at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice LLP, expressed how she will continue to coach for as long as the students will have her. “The students that choose mock trial as an activity (for which no academic or after school credit is given) are creative, dedicated, intelligent, and hardworking; focused on improving themselves rather than checking off a “box” for a college application,” said Johnson. “Each year I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such an outstanding group of kids, but I can’t deny that I am finding it particularly difficult to say bon voyage to the latest group of seniors who are graduating.”

Our second coach, Jody Barillare, is an Associate in the Litigation group at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, said,  “to me, the best part about mock trial is the shared experience of getting a new case, working with the students on strategy and theory, assisting each attorney and witness prepare their best possible performance, and then watching the students take what they’ve learned and compete against other schools.” Our cases over the past two years have ranged from arson to murder, to our latest, most-different case, “This year’s Nationals case was very interesting, and it definitely had an Idaho flavor. The case posed several interesting factual, legal, and evidentiary issues, but it was not overly complex. I also learned more about cattle ranching and sheep herding than I ever thought I would.”

I never thought I would enjoy and gain so much from participating in mock trial. I was originally hesitant to join the team, since I was not planning on a career in law; however, what I have learned about preparation, presence, performing, and persuasiveness exceeds the four walls of a courtroom. Next year I will attend Boston University and major in English, where I will undoubtedly apply the skills I have acquired throughout my mock trial experience, even if I’m not called on to opine about dead sheep.

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