Atticus Team

Team Atticus members: (Back) Trinity Lindsay, Lauren Mukavitz, Sabra Ahmed, Peyton Jones. (Front) Erika Ghassemi, Corynn Gates, Claire Harris, Aubrey Klain.

 

Late author Harper Lee would undoubtedly be proud of Veritas Prep’s three mock trial teams – Atticus, Scout and Jem – who participated in the state tournament and are named in honor of characters from her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This year, 62 teams from around Arizona qualified and competed in the Arizona High School Mock Trial Competition. There were six to eight students per team, and Veritas had reason to celebrate as Team Atticus placed first at state and Team Scout placed second.

“The students receive a case file that includes the law, rules of evidence, statements of witnesses and actual evidence. They digest this material, wrestle with the rules and determine how to effectively present witness testimony and evidence persuasively for each side,” Program Director Bill Gates said.

Like in a genuine trial, the students gather at the courthouse in downtown Phoenix where the teams square off against each other like plaintiffs and defendants. On each team, half of the students serve as lawyers for one side while the other half serve as lawyers for the opposing side. And just as real are the judges and lawyers who score the competition based on a point system.

“Depending on the side of the teams’ assigned case, they take their position at the counsel table,” Gates said. “A judge appears and sits at the bench and calls the case. Witness by witness, the students ask questions of fellow teammates and present cross-examinations.”

They argue the admission of evidence, using the rules that apply in courtrooms every day, and present opening statements and closing arguments.

Mock trial ran from July 2021 to May 2022, with the national competition closing out the season. Many hours of preparation go into getting ready – practice usually takes place two to three nights a week. Team members prep on their own and as a group. Because the teams must be able to argue both sides of a given case, they must be well versed in all aspects of the issue.

“Typically, the organizers try to provide a case that challenges the students and offers the chance to advocate for both sides,” Gates said. 

The case for this year’s competition involved excessive use of force by an individual who was engaged in security activities at a shopping mall. This individual was previously fired from a police department for various reasons – including the use of force.

Gates has done more than just coach winning mock trial teams. Seven years ago, he and his wife, Judge Pam Gates, approached Veritas’ headmaster about starting a mock trial program when their freshman daughter, Emily, showed interest. 

Since Gates and his wife had met during a mock trial in college and won the national championship together, this program was near and dear to their hearts.

He explained that the ultimate goal is for students to learn to become critical thinkers, understand how the rules of reliability guide us in evaluating what we read and hear, and develop strong oral advocacy skills. And it looks like the Veritas students excel in each of these areas!