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SMU Mock Trial Program's RED team takes first place in Lee Allen Memorial invitational at UC Berkeley

In its first visit to the tournament, SMU beat 19 other highly competitive mock trial teams from throughout the western U.S.

by Victoria Winkelman and Mackenzie Ferch

Members of SMU Mock Trial Program’s Red Team enjoy the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Jan. 25. Photo courtesy of Christina de la Garza.

From left to right: Marcella Lupski; Alex Pratt; Haley High; Kaitlin Wetz; Raisch Tomlanovich; Alex Chern; Colton Donica; Kelsey Williams

SMU Mock Trial Program’s Red Team won first place in the 3rd Annual Lee Allen Memorial Invitational, an intercollegiate mock trial tournament hosted by the University of California, Berkeley, January 25-26. Team co-captain Alex Chern and junior Marcella Lupski also received individual attorney awards, while co-captain Alex Pratt received an individual witness award. SMU achieved an overall record of 7-1 out of a possible 8-0 in its first visit to the tournament, besting 19 other highly competitive teams from throughout the western U.S. Many of the teams, including UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and the University of Washington, regularly compete at the national level.

“The SMU Mock Trial team is an incredibly motivated, talented and intelligent group of students,” said coach Christina de la Garza, an attorney with Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, L.L.P. in Dallas. “The students worked extremely hard and we are very, very proud of them.”

Of the three teams in SMU’s Mock Trial Program (Red, White and Blue teams), the Red Team is the most experienced, and was the only SMU team to attend the Berkeley invitational. The eight undergraduates on the team include co-captains Alex Chern and Alex Pratt, Colton Donica, Haley High, Marcella Lupski, Raisch Tomlanovich, Kaitlin Wetz and Kelsey Williams.

Preparation for the tournament began last August, when the team began working on a fictional criminal case developed by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA). Participants received a case packet that included evidentiary exhibits, jury charges, police reports, special instructions, witness affidavits and various other documents, and then had to construct both a defense case and a prosecution case. During the course of the competition, the students participated in four rounds, presenting a full three-hour trial for each round. They also alternated between prosecution and defense for each round, with three students acting as attorneys and three as witnesses. A judge – usually a current law student or practicing attorney – presided over the trials, during which the students presented an opening statement, conducted direct examinations of their own witnesses and cross-examinations of the opposing team’s witnesses and, finally, presented their closing arguments. “The judge scored the teams based on the knowledge, skill and persuasiveness of the attorneys and witnesses,” de la Garza said.

The three SMU teams are now preparing for two upcoming regional tournaments. The Blue and Red teams will compete in Dallas, Feb. 14-16, and the White Team will compete in Jackson, Miss., Feb. 21-23. Any team that places in the top seven at a regional contest will go to the Opening Round Championship in Memphis, Tenn., to vie for a chance to attend the national competition.

About SMU’s Mock Trial Program

Founded in 2000, SMU’s Mock Trial Program strives to help undergraduate students be successful in competition by developing their skills in legal analysis and oral advocacy. Students compete in a mock courtroom case, given out at the beginning of the year by the American Mock Trial Association. Students take on the role of attorneys and witnesses and compete against other universities in three to five invitational, regional and national tournaments throughout the year, judged by real-life judges, attorneys or law students. The program is managed by the Meadows School Division of Communication Studies, led by faculty advisor Chris Salinas and coached by three local practicing attorneys, Christina de la Garza, Nichol Bunn and Meadows alumna Lauren Leahy, co-founder of the SMU program. The program includes 30 students from disciplines across campus, chosen through tryouts. In 2012-13, the program won a total of 12 individual awards, earning SMU a place in the top 10 percent of mock trial programs nationwide. The SMU Mock Trial Program not only strives to do well in competition, but also to provide its students with the work ethic, critical thinking skills and leadership experience necessary to be successful in a wide variety of professions.

For more information and to get involved in SMU’s Mock Trial Program, visit here, check out the SMU Mock Trial Facebook page and follow the program on Twitter @SMU_MockTrial.

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