Despite the challenges of competing virtually, Conejo Valley high schools made an impressive showing this year at the 39th Annual Mock Trial tournament hosted by the Ventura County Office of Education and the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Out of twenty-six teams, Trinity Pacific’s Silver Team placed second, while their Blue Team placed first, earning them a spot in the upcoming state mock trial competition. Newbury Park’s Panther Team and Gold Team placed sixth and fifth, respectively. And Oak Park Gold and Oak Park Black placed eighth and fourth, respectively.
This year’s case was People v. Croddy. Lee Croddy, the host of a popular YouTube channel, was charged with aiding and abetting a first-degree burglary and accessory after the fact. The teams were given six months to build a case with the provided charges, legal precedence, witness statements, and physical evidence. Each team assigned students to portray the witnesses, prosecution and defense attorneys, pretrial attorneys, clerk, and bailiff. They also received help on courtroom procedure and trial preparation from dedicated volunteer attorneys.
Lirah Packman, an attorney for Trinity Pacific Blue, shared her thoughts on the challenges of preparing and competing through Zoom. “It was weird not to work on certain courtroom decorum and other aspects not necessary for an online platform. During competition, I usually meet the other team and form a connection with them which I missed this year, but I’m grateful they found a way for us to compete.” One of her coaches, Dara Murphy, added, “It’s been really hard not to have that in-person time to bond.” From Grace Brethren High School, attorney coach Ann Maduro shared, “Strong collaboration regarding ideas and strategies requires building rapport, reading body language, and having eye contact, and these aspects of communication are much harder to successfully achieve in a virtual setting.” Despite the extra hurdles present in an online setting, “they worked harder this year than ever before. Their encouragement for each other was genuinely heart-warming. They have accomplished participating in multiple Zoom trials, which most actual trial attorneys are currently pondering on how to do so,” commented attorney coach Julianne Pinter.
After months of preparation, the teams presented their cases to actual volunteer judges and scoring attorneys such as Judge Danielle De Smeth. Judge De Smeth, whose high school mock trial experience inspired her to pursue law, has been coaching teams and presiding over the annual Ventura mock trial tournaments since 2010. She was impressed with the students’ level of effectiveness in a virtual setting. Judge De Smeth’s favorite moments were when a student was able to “fire back an answer in the moment, synthesizing all their hard work together with what’s happening in the moment.”
High school mock trial programs provide many benefits for the student participants by cultivating a greater understanding of the Constitution and our judicial system and developing the communication skills and legal knowledge valuable in taking the next step towards a career in law or any other field. The Conejo Guardian is proud of our Conejo Valley teams for their outstanding performances and their ability to overcome the challenges of competing in mock trials over Zoom.
Trinity Pacific Blue Defense Team and Silver Prosecution Team, photo credit: Dara Murphy
3rd Place Attorney-
Grace DeVico, Trinity Pacific Blue
Lirah Packman, Trinity Pacific Blue
3rd Place Witness
Ashlyn Tucker, Trinity Pacific Silver
Valerie Flores, Trinity Pacific Silver
Newbury Park Panthers and Gold Team, photo credit: Jill Brock-Barraza aka “Mrs. B”
3rd Place Pretrial Attorney-
Adalia Luo Newbury Park Panthers
2nd Place Pretrial Attorney-
3rd Place Witness-
Roshnee Moorthy, Newbury Park Gold
1st Place Witness-
Benito Canepa, Newbury Park Gold