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Monroe High mock-trial team reaches finals

November 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Prosecutors, defense attorneys, expert witnesses -- they're all elements of a criminal case that's all too familiar to the high school students competing in this year's mock trial program. The competition ends Monday night. One school that's made it to the finals is the team from James Monroe High School, where they're learning a lot more from their courtroom adventure than just the law.

The kids who make up Monroe High's mock trial team have conquered many obstacles and have fought their way to the finals. Most are first-time members of the team, starting from square one.

The Los Angeles County Mock Trial Competition is put on by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at helping kids get a better understanding of the law. And there's no better way to do it than to be put in the middle of a courtroom drama.

"We put in two to three hours daily, practicing after school. The kids get no class credit for it," said Kathy Graber, Monroe High's mock-trial coach.

The kids get handed the facts from a simulated criminal case in September. They get about five weeks to pull their whole case together, complete with cross-examination, pre-trial arguments and opening statements.

"I've learned a ton about the law," said student Rachel Wing. "I've learned how to speak in front of people, I've learned how to write questions that make sense."

Retired federal judge George Schiavelli puts them through their paces.

"Two things, counsel: always remember to be prepared when the court has been questioning you heavily and then stops, don't stand expecting another question. Know which one to get out, and jump back into it, OK?" said Schiavelli to one of the mock attorneys.

Schiavelli says out of the 71 teams in Los Angeles, the Monroe team is one of the few from public schools.

"They work incredible hours, they come in weekends, they give up time on weekends, they're driven to do well in the program," said Schiavelli. "The effort that they make, and to see those kids faces, it is wonderful to see how happy they are."

Many of the kids say they want to be pursue a career in the law. But regardless of where they go in life, being on this mock-trial team has given them something invaluable: self-confidence.

"Definitely the experience, the adrenaline rush when you're up to present. My heart, the first time, it felt like it was going to come out through my mouth. And then the second time I went up, it was so much better," said student Pamela Souza. "I'm sure it will me for my future."

They'll find out who won the championship in an awards ceremony Monday night.


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