Lee Croddy is a popular YouTube blogger, speaking to millions of fans about conspiracy theories he says the government is hiding from the people. But did he cause one of his followers to break into a government agent’s house, steal a briefcase, and assault the agent when he came home?
That was the question posed to students all over the state of California in this year’s mock trial competition, put on by the Constitutional Rights Foundation from March 18 – 21 via Zoom. High school teams, as well as those from YMCAs, argued the case before real life judges over the past few weeks.
Piedmont High School’s team won the Alameda County competition, defeating a team from Bishop O’Dowd in the finals on Feb. 25. The Highlanders then went on to finish 13th in the state.
“It’s empowering,” senior co-captain Emma Broening said. “Once you get to know the rules of evidence … you try to solve this puzzle intelligently and also [have to do some] public speaking.”
Broening served as the lead prosecuting attorney. She did a direct examination of one witness, a cross examination of the defendant, and the closing argument.
Teams are made up of attorneys, witnesses, clerks, and bailiffs. Each school has a prosecution and a defense team and switches off during the competition. Against one school, the prosecution team “plays.” Against another, it’s the defense. The students argue a pretrial motion first, and then they argue the case.
Witnesses are essentially acting the role of various characters – the defendant, a police officer, a psychological expert.
“You get the same case packet,” senior co-captain Anthony Wong said. “There’s a fictitious situation. There’s a defendant being charged by the state of California for a crime. Last year, it was a murder, this year it was aiding and abetting of a burglary.
“It does take a lot of skill. It’s not like we’re reading out of the packet. It really is like a real trial.”
Wong served as lead defense attorney, conducting direct and cross examinations and final arguments when Piedmont represented the defense.
Wong and Broening received a Team Spirit award for their work in the county competition. Wong also was awarded third place in the Prosecuting Pretrial Attorney category.
Piedmont senior Sajan Srivastava was named Honorable Mention in the Defense Pretrial Attorney category.
Dave Keller is the teacher/coach of the team. He has served in that role for nine years and this is the first team he has coached that made the state competition. He said that one of the fun parts of the competition was watching the student attorneys trying to trip up the witnesses.
“Some enjoy the acting of everything,” he said. “Putting on a witness role and bringing that character to life, a lot of students enjoy that. Mainly, this program attracts students who have an interest in the law. That’s really where a lot of action happens in the trial. Only attorneys get to demonstrate a knowledge of the rules.”
In the Alameda County final against Bishop O’Dowd, Piedmont played the prosecution before Alameda County Judge Noël Wise. Remi Montoya, a follower of the defendant Croddy, had broken into the house of state agent Drew Marshak and stolen a briefcase that allegedly contained documents that Croddy said the government was hiding from the people. The question was whether Montoya acted independently or at the request of Croddy. Wong argued the pretrial motion on whether to allow evidence into the trial. Broening led the team in the trial along with Srivastava and Aryana Fisher. Dabney Warner portrayed agent Drew Marshak against the Dragons and Emily Adams portrayed Montoya.
The Piedmont team is: Anthony Wong, Emma Broening, Sajan Srivastava, Aryana Fisher, Andres Roberts, Zenobia Pellissier Lloyd, Dabney Warner, Emily Adams, Sofia Croley, Parsa Bazargani, Mara Lovric, Isabella Wu, Frankie Broening, Seamus Meagher, Romi Bhatia, Katharine Kinne, Amelia Wire, Ella Puckett, Jane Hempeck, Bridget Bentley, and Maya Stewart.
Scoring is separate from the judge’s verdict – in the case, Judge Wise ruled Croddy guilty on one count and not guilty on another. The Highlanders won the scoring, 14-10.
“This year there were more facts leaning toward to the prosecution,” Wong said. “The verdict doesn’t matter. It’s the points. It comes down to the skills of each student.”