Skip to main content

Mock Trial Academy draws nearly 200 secondary students


February 19, 2009

Imagine 200 voices calling out, "Objection!" The Second Annual Sun Devil Mock Trial Academy at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law was not quite like that, but it was close.

Nearly 200 middle and high school students raised their voices asking questions, putting forward arguments, and holding discussions at the Jan. 24 event at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. The Academy provided them the opportunity to sharpen their skills in trial advocacy in preparation for their upcoming regional mock trial tournaments.

"One of the hallmarks of the new model of public legal education we are creating at the law school is that legal education extends far beyond traditional J.D. training," said Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the College of Law. "I am therefore thrilled that we are bringing the excitement of mock-trial competition to high school and middle school students, many of whom are surely destined to become future leaders of the state and the nation."

The event more than doubled in size from last year, welcoming students from 10 high schools and four middle schools from Casa Grande to Flagstaff. The event featured two tracks: all-day programming for high-schoolers on topics ranging from acting as a witness, to cross-examination, to opening and closing argument; and a half-day for middle-schoolers focused on the trial process and public speaking. 

The event was coordinated through the university's undergraduate mock-trial program (http://www.sundevilmocktrial.org/) and the law school's new Youth Mentoring Board. The sessions were taught by College of Law students James Cool and Sarah Barrios-Cool along with University of Arizona law student Laura Seelau, local attorneys Peter Whitney (Class of 2008) and Deborah Williams, and Illinois federal court judge and law school adjunct faculty member, The Hon. Jim Plunkett.  The event was free for students and included a lunch provided by the Hispanic National Bar Association and with a grant from the Law School Admission Council.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for the students to get excited about higher education and passionate about mock trial and the law," said Cool, who is the Sun Devil Mock Trial Associate Coach and helped plan the event. His sentiments were echoed by his wife and co-event coordinator Sarah Barrios-Cool.

Our goal is to build bridges between the law school and the community and to introduce these high school and middle school students to the remarkable, young individuals who participate in Sun Devil Mock Trial," Barrios-Cool said.

The couple said they will continue the event as long as there is interest and hope to start a mock trial summer camp. 

Their enthusiasm was matched by the students who attended.

Dinah DeWald, a 16-year-old junior from the Arizona School for the Arts who attended the camp for the first time, said the experience took her by surprise.

"In a few hours I got a completely different perspective on how to craft a witness' character, an effective closing argument, and a knock-out cross-examination," DeWald said. "I'm inspired and excited to work harder on the case, and now I want to continue mock trial in college."